CNN investigation finds 103 Uber drivers accused of sexual assault or abuse

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MONONGALIA COUNTY, W.Va (WDTV) - A CNN investigation revealed this week that 103 Uber drivers have been accused of sexual assault or abuse in the past four years.

The findings have raised fresh concerns about vetting procedures used by the company.

"You know, we don't really know anything about the drivers," Brianna Gerundo, a WVU grad student who takes Uber frequently, told 5 News Friday.

Gerundo said that while she enjoys the convenience of ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, she never gets into one of the cars alone.

"Some drivers are definitely sketchier than others," Gerundo said. "There are definitely some who make you kinda uncomfortable."

The issue has also hit home in Morgantown.

Last September, two drivers for Uber and Lyft were arrested and accused of sexual assault.

In response to CNN's investigation, an Uber spokesperson cited the company's recent protocol changes. The company will rerun background checks on an annual basis, and plans to roll out a "safety center" within the Uber app. The feature will allow riders to share trip details with people. It will also include an emergency button allowing riders to call 911 from within the app.

Dr. Nick Bowman, an associate professor of communication studies at WVU, has paid close attention to several of Uber's scandals in the past few years.

"I think there's a situation with ridesharing and the sharing economy in general where the ideals of the sharing economy don't match up with the reality of the sharing economy," said Bowman.

In the sharing economy, companies like Uber and Lyft rely on independent contractors--not employees. In this environment, Bowman said, the drivers have not been subjected to the same type of thorough vetting that would normally be applied to workers at traditional taxi cab companies.

"In a sharing economy, if you were going to go to your neighbor and borrow a hammer or ask somebody to install some drywall in your basement, you wouldn't vet them per se because you know them," Bowman said.

"When you scale up a sharing economy to millions of people, it requires you to have lots and lots and lots of people willing to share their time and energy," Bowman continued. "What's happened is that it's not just a couple folks making some money on the side. It's people going all in, as a full time job, but not having to go through the rigor to be a professional driver."

Bowman suggests there's little incentive for the company to tighten their background checks, because it could pose a problem for their business model.

"The problem is that Uber has to have lots of drivers to work," Bowman explained. "So there's very little motivation on the company's side, I would argue, to limit the number of drivers working for them. In fact, they actively encourage their drivers to be on the road as much as possible."

5 News reached out to the company, but we have not heard back.