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An Uber driver strikes again: 3 assaults on bicycle riders in 10 weeks

Posted by on November 14th, 2016 at 2:25 pm

This Uber driver is parked illegally and is creating a dangerous situation by parking in a cycling-only lane on NE Multnomah.(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

This Uber driver is parked illegally and is creating a dangerous situation by parking in a cycling-only lane on NE Multnomah.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

People who drive for ride-sharing company Uber frequently ignore a key traffic law that impacts bicycle access on major streets. And when called out for doing so the drivers have a tendency to lash out at — and in some cases physically assault and/or harrass — other road users.

We now know of three such incidents in the past ten weeks.

This morning we received an email from a reader who came upon an Uber driver who was parked on the new raised bike lane on NE Couch as it enters the Burnside Bridge. When the bicycle rider confronted the person inside the car and attempted to photograph the vehicle, he claims he was verbally threatened. “He got out of his vehicle, got face-to-face with me, and threatened to asssault me.” Not wanting the situation to escalate, the man on the bicycle says he stood down and let the driver vent. That tactic didn’t prevent the driver from forcibly grabbing his bike and throwing it aside.

On October 19th another Portlander tried to document illegal and dangerous parking by someone who drives for Uber (and Lyft). He said the driver got mad, stepped out of the car, and grabbed his phone. He captured it on Twitter…

And on August 27th, we reported about another case where a person who appeared to be driving for Uber assaulted a bicycle rider. In that case the woman was later arrested thanks in part because the bicycle rider had documented proof of the altercation and the driver bragged about the incident online.

These are just the incidents we’ve heard about.

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I have personally seen several people with Uber and/or Lyft stickers in their cars, staring at their phones while parked in bicycling-only lanes. It seems to be yet another dangerous nuisance people on bikes have to deal with on a daily basis.

So far Uber has been responsive when contacted about the problem. Jon Isaacs, their public affairs manager for Oregon, told us the woman in the August 27th incident was immediately “suspended from accessing the Uber platform.” That phrase (which the company calls “Deactivation”) is strategic because Uber says people who drive for them are only “independent driver-partners” and not full-fledged employees who can be “fired” or “suspended”. Isaacs also told us that, “rider and pedestrian safety continue to be our top priority” and that, “We have a zero tolerance policy for any reckless or dangerous actions by drivers or riders.”

Uber’s current policy states that any driver who receives “several or serious complaints of poor, unsafe or distracted driving while using the Uber app” will face deactivation. Once they can no longer access the app, people can re-enlist as an Uber driver by showing the company they’ve “taken steps to improve” such as taking a “quality improvement course.”

It’s hard enough for traditional transportation agencies to educate and police the behaviors of their drivers. So can we really expect much improvement from a company that considers their drivers nothing more than “independent partners”? These behaviors are happening with too much frequency for a company to rely only on legal fine print to keep their drivers in check.

We’ve asked Isaacs to comment on this recent incident (they’ve responded to the victim and have started an investigation) and will update this post if/when we hear back.

For now, since this trend is likely to continue, here’s what to do if you would like to file a complaint with an Uber or Lyft driver: Email Isaacs at jisaacs@uber.com and fill out the complaint form on the Portland Bureau of Transportation website. If you have been assaulted, file a report with the police online or call the PPB non-emergency line at (503) 823-3333.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Jeff ForbesAdron HallEl BicicleroCycling Lyft DriverMiddle of the Road Guy Recent comment authors
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Pete
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Pete
bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Seems best to quietly take a picture of the car in the bike lane, the license plate, and the Uber Sticker before calling out the driver from a safe distance . I see this all the time too, and will certainly using the pbot website to report them in the future.

the law
Guest
the law

Guys, when this happens, you absolutely have to report it to the police! The process will be frustrating, I can guarantee, but you will help build a record that can be used (a) in general to show the problems people riding bikes face and (b) against a particular driver down the road, if he escalates. But physical attacks, such as throwing someone else’s property, are illegal and should be reported.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Silver lining: at least we know which vehicles to be extra-cautious around now. Just look for the “rideshare” sticker.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

I guess we (the community & city taxi commission) should have asked “what” Uber / Lyft look for when prescreening professional drivers before hiring…perhaps they got what they were looking for?!

…or perhaps it is a case of work pressure given the downward pressure on wages this industry that they press have reported…

Mike
Guest
Mike

All these assaults on bicycle riders. Anyone ever heard of self defense? Fight back. Learn Krav Maga and get good at it. It’s easy to learn without the ritualistic BS that accompanies other kinds of martial arts.

Mark
Guest
Mark

I see this every Thursday and Friday when I commute home using the bike lane on lower E Burnside. It’s the worst when it’s dark and raining and I have to merge into the next lane to go around. Jerks!

J_R
Guest
J_R

If I’m assaulted by anyone whether riding a bike, walking, or driving a car, I’m calling 911. NOW! Reporting an incident that happened a while ago by using the non-emergency number is giving in to the criminals.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Perhaps if the Official website reporting to Uber and PBOT does not work we could use smoke signals. Just build a small fire on the hood of the offending car and use a damp blanket to modulate the smoke in to the desired official message to Uber headquarters.

Jerry H
Guest
Jerry H

Is bear spray allowed for self defense?

Will
Guest
Will

Question. What is the specific law they are violating? A possible peaceful way to get the cops there fast is to stand in the auto lane adjacent to the car and just sit there blocking traffic. You stand there till they move or till the cops show up. But this also might involve you getting a ticket as well. Just a thought.

Chris
Guest
Chris

I was a witness to this morning’s incident. I was riding a biketown bike, and had I been on my own or something faster, I would have chased him down grabbed the driver’s info. He was stopped for a little bit in the bike lane, but its a new car, so he didn’t have real license plates yet.

rick
Guest
rick

What have the police said about this?

the individual involved
Guest
the individual involved

This is the report to UBER. Still deciding if I will file a police report/citizen initiated petition.

DATE: 2016/11/14 8:00a
LOCATION: Couch St on the Burnside Bridge westbound onramp “curves”
VEHICLE: Toyota Prius, purple. Oregon plate XXXXXX
DRIVER: Male, self identifies as in his 60’s
INCIDENT: Riding westbound on Couch st. i came upon the driver’s vehicle was parked up on the raised bike lane in, what is essentially a blind corner. This forced many riders to have to re-merge with bridge traffic mid curves. I maneuvered around the situation and dismounted. I approached the vehicle and took photographs. The driver became agitated and i explained that he was blocking a lane of traffic and endangering riders. He said “fine take your pictures” got in his vehicle and drove off. He changed his mind after about 30 ft and pulled back up on to the raised lane (almost hitting other riders with his door and confronted me on the sidewalk. He told me i could not take pictures and i informed him that he is in public and indeed i can. He then crossed into my personal space and stood nose to nose threading to assault me. He continued to vent and attempted to get me to hit him. Sensing that he was not going to initiate an attack, i stood my ground and let him vent. When he realized i would not take the bait, he picked up my bicycle and attempted to throw it. He noticed other individuals filming, dropped my bicycle, and drove away. When i passed him again in traffic he laid on his horn. I do have empathy for him. He is an older man trying to make by. I would like to see him reprimanded and given a second chance.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

What’s the obsession with rideshare companies, particularly Uber?

Yeah, this stuff happens but it’s hardly like these people are worse than ordinary drivers. If anything, my experience is that they’re actually a little better, possibly because complaints can affect their income.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

It was a month ago so my memory could be foggy, but I think I saw that black Sonata parked on the 3rd Avenue protected bike lane when I was in Portland last month. Looks like we have some serial violators out there. Maybe Uber will do more to screen out these drivers, though I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Escalation is almost never a good idea, no matter how tough and burly you THINK you are. I’ve experienced this firsthand. I like how The Individual Involved mentioned having actually had self defense training – and that actually led to the decision NOT to escalate. And don’t forget, you NEVER know who’s carrying a firearm. Oregon has issued tens of thousands of concealed carry permits.

Pepper spray? Tricky stuff. Better hope you’re upwind of your assailant and aim it just right. I was in Banff this summer, and got trained in how to use pepper spray against attacking grizzlies. Very effective when deployed properly, but you still don’t want to use it unless you absolutely have to.

Editz
Guest
Editz

I’ve not dealt with either service, but what immediately struck me was the size of those stickers and their barely legible registration numbers. Hell, one appears to be hand written?! Why aren’t the numbers made larger and the dumb logos made smaller to help people ID the drivers when there’s a problem?

rh
Guest
rh

The Amazon delivery vans are pretty horrible drivers too.

the individual involved
Guest
the individual involved

If there are any witnesses that were present for this altercation please write up a brief statement. there was a woman with glasses/curly hair/hex yellow jacket that saw most all of it. but yeah, anyone.. thanks!

esther2
Guest
esther2

There are 4,000 Uber drivers in Portland. I don’t like blaming the behavior of a hand full on all Uber drivers.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

How about an app for reporting a driver in the bike lane? These companies know where their drivers are by gps, right? Seems like an easy thing to enforce if we really want to.

Has anyone else noticed the increase in illegal photo-resistant license plate covers? What about missing front plates? Maybe our Vision Zero initiative should include some way to report those.

kittens
Guest
kittens

Can’t say i didn’t see this coming.

Uber drivers are by their very definition are amateurs. You want to pay them peanuts and expect to be chauffeured around at any time of the day or night by a white, college educated, safe, perfectly friendly and normal person and then are surprised when any one of these expectations is not met. You are living in a fantasy world. They dont know what they are doing. They are just following instructions on a phone. If it ain’t there they don’t know what to do.

Cycling Lyft Driver
Guest
Cycling Lyft Driver

As a white (not that it should matter), college educated, hopefully safe, perfectly friendly and normal person who cycles to my main job *AND* does part-time Lyft driving I can say that both driving and cycling here were a learning curve. As a cyclist you’ve probably ridden this route many times vs the driver who may have found themselves there for the first time. Sometimes the passenger is late coming out, expecting the driver to miraculously be there. Sometimes they open the car door before it is stopped. It took me a week of riding to work to find my preferred route. It took me a couple of weeks of Lyft driving here to get used to some of Portland’s road peculiarities.

This aggression will not stand, man.

Jeff Forbes
Guest
Jeff Forbes

Isn’t there a number for reporting illegally parked vehicles, and as I recall it’s a $90.00 ticket. Of course, an Uber driver is unlikely to be there long enough to get a ticket, but I see cars parked for much longer and want to report them.