What’s safer—riding in a cab or riding in an Uber car?
A new false advertising lawsuit raised that question when a coalition of 19 taxicab companies throughout California alleged upstart Uber deceives consumers with claims that its rides are “safer than a taxi” and “the safest rides on the road.”
Uber’s Web site emphasizes that it provides “safe pickups,” adding, “no more waiting alone on a dark street hoping you can hail a taxi.” According to the complaint, the claims caused lost revenues and reputational harm to the companies.
The taxicab companies argue that their method of evaluating the safety of both drivers and their vehicles trumps that of Uber. The companies run a finger print-based criminal background check that eliminates concerns about drivers using false names. Drivers must also pass a written exam and driver safety course. As for vehicles, the companies conduct a 75-point inspection of all cars used. By comparison, Uber merely checks a driver’s name against court records, driving records, and a national sex offender database. And drivers are only obligated to submit a copy of a 19-point inspection for their vehicles. For these reasons, Uber’s safety considerations are far more cursory in comparison, according to the companies.
Uber also adds a $1 “Safe Rides Fee” to every fare, regardless of the duration or distance of the ride, which Uber states supports the company’s “continued efforts to ensure the safest possible platform for Uber riders and drivers.”
According to the complaint, consumers “will [reasonably] expect that they will be receiving a ride safer than that provided by Plaintiffs’ taxicabs, as Plaintiffs’ taxicabs simply charge a total fare, without imposing any additional surcharge to ensure a ‘Safe Ride.’”
The plaintiffs also cited to a lawsuit filed by the District Attorneys’ offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles, alleging that Uber engaged in deceptive practices with regard to its driver background check process, in violation of state law.
The taxicab companies seek injunctive relief, restitution, and treble damages for violations of the Lanham Act and California state law.
To read the complaint in L.A. Taxi Cooperative v. Uber Technologies, click here.
Why it matters: Calling the lawsuit “frivolous” and “simply without merit,” a spokesperson for Uber said the company plans to fight the case and defend the safety of its rides. “As riders across the country know, Uber’s multi-layered driver screening includes county, federal and multi-state checks and the rating system and traceability of the Uber platform gives riders and drivers unprecedented transparency,” spokesperson Eva Behrend told the Los Angeles Times. “This lawsuit was filed by an industry that for decades has ignored the safety of riders and drivers—and that in San Francisco, allows up to two drug or alcohol offenses for drivers and only looks back five years into a driver’s background, with limited recourse for complaints and wrongdoings.”