Sexual Assault lawsuits have been filed against Lyft, a ride sharing app that Ohio State partnered with to help improve student safety on and off campus. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

One month after Ohio State partnered with Lyft for a new safe-ride service, the company was faced with a lawsuit filed on behalf of 1,000 women across the country raising safety concerns.

The lawsuit was filed Sept. 4 in the Superior Court of California on behalf of women who claim they were sexually assaulted by Lyft drivers. 

Lyft partnered with Ohio State in August to create a replacement — called Lyft Ride Smart at Ohio State — for the previous safe-ride program that was offered to students.

Lyft Ride Smart offers rides to students between the hours of 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. in university-designated service areas. The cost for each ride is expected to be $2 or less after the university’s $5 credit is applied, according to Ohio State’s Transportation and Traffic Management website. 

Students enrolled at the university have access to discounted rides as long as they hit the shared-ride option on the Lyft app and have their school email linked to the account, according to the website.

Undergraduate Student Government continues to work with Lyft to help ensure student safety, Julia Dennen, USG vice president and fourth-year in public affairs, said in a statement. 

“As a student government, student safety is our top priority,” Dennen said. “This pilot program has been created in order to serve as many students as possible and provide timely, reliable and safe transportation services. [USG President Kate Greer] and I regularly meet with the Ohio State Lyft team to voice student concerns and are working collaboratively with the team to identify more safeguards and support measures.”

Dennen said USG has recognized the severity of these allegations and recommends students take necessary precautions before using the ride-share program.

Dan Hedman, university spokesperson, said in an email that the safety of students remains Ohio State’s top priority, and when taking a Lyft, students should be aware of details such as what kind of car is supposed to be picking them up.

“We remind everyone to use ridesharing responsibly,” Hedman said. “Students can follow their ride’s location in the Lyft app. We advise riders to ask the driver who they are picking up and to ensure they confirm the vehicle information (license plate, model, color) matches their reservation before entering.”

According to the lawsuit allegations, Lyft has received complaints of sexual assault since 2015.

“LYFT continues to hire drivers without performing adequate background checks,” the lawsuit states. “LYFT continues to allow culpable drivers who have complaints of rape and sexual assault lodged against them to keep driving for LYFT.”

Mike Bomberger, an attorney at Estey and Bomberger and the lead attorney representing 13 women in the lawsuit, said several hundred women have called his office with similar complaints. He said a large majority of the women are between the ages of 19 and 27 and a large majority of the assaults occur between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m.

“In these cases, we’re going to find out how many women are assaulted, and it’s going to be staggering,” Bomberger said. 

Kaitlyn Carl, communications manager at Lyft, said in an email Lyft has a commitment to rider safety and a dedicated Trust and Safety team to respond to incidents.

Safety is fundamental to Lyft, and we conduct background checks before any driver can join the platform,” Carl said.

The lawsuit claims that Lyft also has failed to implement reasonable driver monitoring procedures to protect the safety of its passengers.

Carl directed The Lantern to a blog post written Sept. 10 by John Zimmer, president and co-founder of Lyft. 

Zimmer said Lyft has existing safety features in place that include license and photo verification of their drivers that a passenger can look for before getting in the car, an option in the app for riders to share their route and estimated time of arrival before the ride starts, a two-way rating system between drivers and passengers and anti-fraud measures that confirm the driver’s identity with a photo of themselves.

According to the blog post, Lyft announced new safety features in September, including emergency 911 access from the app, smart trip check-in — which allows the app to check in and make sure everything is OK or ask if a rider needs emergency assistance if a ride has unexplained delays — and new sexual assault training for drivers. 

Zimmer also said Lyft has partnered with RAINN, an anti-sexual violence organization, to educate the company commmunity and has enacted training for drivers. 

“Starting this fall, all Lyft drivers will be required to complete additional mandatory Community Safety Education, and anyone reported for violating [Lyft’s Community Guidelines] will be removed from the platform or required to take additional Community Safety Education,” Zimmer said.

Lyft announced that background checks for its drivers used to be every 12 months, but drivers will now go through continuous daily criminal monitoring, according to a Lyft blog post written in April. 

Hedman said Ohio State offers safety tools and resources other than Ride Smart, including Rape Aggression Defense, a self-defense class for women; Rave Guardian, a virtual guardian app; and CABS for transportation to on- and immediately off-campus locations.