Uber defiant in face of new legal challenge

Lawyers' claims around safety are inaccurate, the firm says

Uber's logo

Uber's logo

Uber is pushing back against the latest legal challenge to its business, saying accusations against it and its competitors are inaccurate and need correcting.

The district attorneys for San Francisco and Los Angeles sent letters this week to Uber, Lyft and Sidecar claiming they've engaged in unlawful business practices. The letters, based on a joint investigation by the attorneys' offices, take aim at several issues, chiefly the companies' policies around driver background checks.

The checks don't go far enough and aren't as thorough as the companies claim, the district attorneys (DAs) allege. Sidecar, for instance, has misled consumers by saying it screens out drivers who have ever committed driving violations, sexual assaults and other offenses, according to its letter from the DAs, seen by IDG News Service. Similar letters were sent to Uber and Lyft, said a source with knowledge of the matter.

Uber says the claims are false. "The district attorneys have made numerous inaccurate assertions that we will correct and discuss with them," an Uber spokeswoman said. "Ridesharing is unequivocally supported by the California legislature, the California Public Utilities Commission, the governor, local jurisdictions across the state and millions of Californians," she added.

Lyft and Sidecar also said they would work with the district attorneys to address the issues. "Sidecar is strongly committed to safety for both riders and drivers," the company said.

Uber's stated policies on background checks include county, federal and multi-state checks -- but they only go back seven years, which is the maximum allowable under California law, the firm says on its website.

The checks apparently haven't stopped bad things from happening. In Orlando, an Uber driver was recently charged with battery after putting his hand inside a female passenger's blouse, according to a local news report. And in Washington, D.C., an Uber rider this past summer says he was kidnapped by his driver, as reported in The Washington Post.

The ride-sharing companies have faced legal challenges, caps on the number of cars they can operate and outright bans in many areas they operate. Uber's legality in Germany has gone back and forth over unresolved questions of safety and insurance.

In California, "We value innovation and new modes of providing service to the public; however, we need to make sure that the safety and well-being of consumers are adequately protected in the process," said San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon on Friday.

The district attorneys also say new services from all three firms that allow customers to car pool to split costs are illegal under California law, which forbids transportation companies from charging multiple people for the same ride. The California Public Utilities Commission has also challenged the services.

San Francisco's Gascon and LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in the letter they'd like to meet with the firms by Oct. 8. Barring that, their offices are prepared to take legal action including injunctive relief and civil penalties.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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