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Lyft announces safety changes advocated by victims in wake of scrutiny

The company will mandate driver safety education and use a check-in feature to determine if riders or drivers need help.

A Lyft Inc. sticker is displayed on a vehicle in the Time Square neighborhood of New York. (Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg)

In the wake of fierce criticism, Lyft said Tuesday it will make several changes to improve safety, including mandating driver education and adding a notification system for potentially dangerous off-track rides.

Lyft said in a blog it had partnered with RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, to add the mandatory community safety education. New drivers will take the training immediately, while existing drivers will be asked to complete it within a certain time frame.

It also added the new smart trip check-in feature, which the company promised to put in place this year. That will prompt Lyft to check in with riders and drivers to ask if they need help or even to call emergency services if there are unexplained delays with a trip.

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“We don’t take lightly any instances where someone’s safety is compromised, especially in the ride-share industry, including the allegations of assault in the news last week,” said Lyft President John Zimmer, in a statement on the company’s website. “The onus is on all of us to learn from any incident, whether it occurs on our platform or not, and then work to help prevent them.”

The changes come about a month after The Washington Post reported on allegations of serious safety lapses at Lyft, where victims called for changes such as improved driver training and better avenues for receiving help. Many critics have said that despite Lyft’s reputation as a friendlier and more socially conscious ride, it has lagged on improving safety features compared with rival Uber.

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Lyft has also faced additional scrutiny in the form of lawsuits. Attorneys in San Francisco announced last week they had filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court on behalf of 14 people who alleged they were raped or sexually assaulted while riding on Lyft. The suit alleged Lyft allowed “known sexual predators” to transport passengers on the platform and covered up sexual assault complaints in multiple locations.

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In a statement, Michael Bomberger, one of the attorneys from law firm Estey and Bomberger who filed the cases against Lyft in San Francisco, decried the announcement as a “cheap public relations stunt in response to the lawsuit we filed against them last week.”

“What the victims describe is terrifying and has no place in the Lyft community,” said Mary Winfield, Lyft’s head of trust and safety, in a statement responding to the lawsuit.

Lyft said it was making the additional improvements as it launched in-app 911 integration, a feature informally known as a “panic button” that allows riders and drivers to alert authorities in the event of an emergency. Lyft previously said this spring it would add that function, as well as introduce voluntary sexual harassment prevention education to its platform. Uber already has a panic button in its app.

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Lyft said it will package all of its safety features in a single location within the app. Users’ location and vehicle information, such as license plate numbers, will be displayed prominently so they can inform dispatchers of the details of their trip, though the feature stops short of transmitting that information directly to dispatchers.

Allison Tielking, a Stanford University senior who alleged she was sexually harassed three separate times in Lyft rides, has been pressing Lyft directly for changes. She said the steps taken by Lyft Tuesday were a “huge, huge step forward.”

“Lyft seems to be listening more to these viral tweets asking for alerts in some way if you’re going really off course,” she said. Still, she said Lyft still needs to provide concrete data on the frequency of reports of sexual assault and harassment, something the company has pledged to release.

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