Uber drivers in LA report spate of gunpoint assaults, allege taxi industry involvement

By Michael Carney , written on August 22, 2014

From The News Desk

Uber drivers in LA say they’ve suffered a spate of serious assaults in recent months, including robberies at gunpoint. Speaking to PandoDaily, three Uber drivers claim either that they have been victim of attacks themselves or have friends who have been assaulted. None would speak on the record for fear of retribution from Uber.

According to these drivers, criminals (described by one driver as “thugs”) have been using Uber’s consumer app to locate the company’s drivers on a map – often late at night and typically in and around downtown Los Angeles. Once they find an Uber vehicle, they confront the driver, often at gunpoint. In some reports, the driver has his or her phone stolen, rendering them unable to pick up passengers until it’s replaced by the company, a process that can often take several days. In at least one case, we’re told an Uber drivers has been carjacked.

[Note: So as to protect the identity of the drivers, none of the above-mentioned conversations are related to rides taken under my personal Uber account.]

The nature of the attacks -- which seem to be about preventing drivers from working -- has lead some drivers to allege the involvement of members of the LA taxi industry. Sources at the LAPD confirm that there have been numerous incidents of attacks on Uber drivers in recent months, but say that they have yet to find any concrete evidence of a taxi industry connection -- though many within the police department also subscribe to this theory.

To paraphrase one of these drivers (in an effort to keep the conversations casual, I elected not to take notes on the conversations in real-time):

Everybody knows we don't accept cash and they give us an iPhone 4, so its not even the newest model. How much is that worth? We're taking business away from the taxis. Of course they're pissed. Plus the taxi unions are basically the mob. They're just trying to scare us away.

One of the three drivers I spoke to had his phone taken, although the attacker made no mention of the taxi industry, nor did he warn the driver about encroaching on anyone’s turf. But like the other two drivers I spoke to this driver claims to have friends who have received more explicit warnings. The conclusion among all those involved appears to be that these attacks are courtesy of the taxi companies – effectively acting as messages, in not so many words, to “stay off our turf.”

That said, it’s entirely possible that these crimes are random attacks by criminals who have realized that the Uber app can pinpoint the location of extensive numbers of cars which definitely contain at least a cellphone. Cell phone theft is, after all, among the most prevalent crimes in California. Also, driving late at night in downtown LA is a dangerous proposition for anyone. This is particularly true for drivers who are waiting in parking lots or curbside for passengers, or who have iPhones mounted conspicuously on their windshield.

And then there are the usual risks of driving for hire. Taxi driving is considered to be among the most dangerous occupations in the US. According to a 2007 article in SeattlePI:

Since 1980, 1,030 taxicab drivers died on the job. They suffer the highest homicide rate of all occupations. In 2005, taxicab drivers were estimated to be 18 times more likely to die on the job than other working Americans. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reported in 2000 that 183.8 taxicab drivers per 1,000 were injured from assaults or other violent acts.

Without more explicit evidence of a connection between these recent attacks and the taxi industry, this will remain little more than a popular theory. But it's among the most scandalous accusations to come out of this already sordid battle.

We’ll continue to report on this developing story.

Multiple requests for comment from Uber went unreturned. If you have information regarding attacks on Uber drivers, please email [email protected]