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Read our latest newsletter: February 2017.

Mass NOW calls on ride hailing services to address safety

In light of more frequent reports of sexual and physical violence in Boston, the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization for Women released a statement Friday calling on ride hailing services such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar to take responsibility to address safety concerns.

A lack of uniform for these ride hailing companies can have an affect on passengers’ safety, said Katie Prisco-Buxbaum, spokeswoman for Mass NOW.

“Mass NOW is just really looking forward to creating a larger dialogue about this, not only with our group, but our allies too, and working with these companies and our elected officials to make sure that women and other vulnerable parties have safe transportation,” she said.

In order to improve the situation, it is important to create accountability for the drivers and companies as well as raise awareness among the general population, Prisco-Buxbaum said.

“The more we can increase transparency, the more we increase accountability to the drivers and companies, the safer women and other vulnerable parties will feel using these technologies,” she said. “It’s really about educating people about the resources they have, if they are put in a situation like this. There are hotlines and resources put in place if any kind of violence happens, verbal, physical or sexual.”

Mass NOW representatives are meeting with company leaders from Lyft and Uber about what they can do to address violence and make riders reel safer, Prisco-Buxbaum said.

“I’m hoping that with a seat at the table we can advocate for policies across the different providers to make sure that we address the safety of women and other vulnerable populations,” she said.

Some background checks do not completely account for a history of sexual assault, which can put riders at risk, Prisco-Buxbaum said.

“Some companies do not use sexual violence in their background check,” she said. “Say that someone is a registered sex offender in one state, they can move and go by their middle name, then they are able to get away with it.”

Toni Troop, a spokeswoman at Jane Doe Inc., which combats sexual assault and domestic violence in Massachusetts, said the coalition supports Mass NOW’s movement and hopes that rider safety will become a priority.  “We believe that everyone should have the right to safety when it comes to transportation and we support what Mass NOW is calling for, but this doesn’t just apply to Uber and Lyft,” she said. “We think that any company providing services that could put an individual at risk should consider the possibilities to protect the customers.”

Several residents said they would like to see greater measures put in place by ride hailing companies to improve safety.

Aileen Cronin, 55, of Kenmore, described how drivers should have to go through a more thorough screening process, as not all businesses make this a priority.

“Drivers should have to get different references about how they interact with people and make sure they aren’t crazy before they are given a job like that,” she said. “An employer is used to easy come, easy go in that business, which is probably why they aren’t too hung up on doing good background checks. Cab drivers come and go so quick, it’s not worth it to them.”

Everett Kight, 25, of Brighton, who is currently an Uber driver, said the application process should be stricter and more in depth.

“The companies should have stricter application processes. I mean, it only took three days and I don’t think it’s all that comprehensive,” he said. “The company could also make drivers turn on their cameras when they are in the car, as a little security device. They pay for your data and there are apps that can do that and monitor the drivers.”

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