So far, controversies have not seemed to impact the popularity of ride-sharing apps. They boast several advantages over taxis, including no-cash payments and an app that shows how far away a car is and whether the driver received positive reviews from prior riders. Uber ranks 39th in the Apple iTunes store among the most popular free apps, ahead of Lyft, which is not in the top 100.
However, the AP reported this week that California prosecutors sued both Uber and Lyft, saying they misrepresent and exaggerate the rigor of their background checks. Police in India questioned an Uber executive about its background checks after a driver was accused of raping a passenger. And Uber removed a driver in Chicago after a customer reported she was sexually assaulted during a ride in the city last month.
Industry analysts say that this week's incidents follow scattered anecdotes of previous assaults by Uber drivers. They don't prove the services are unsafe alternatives to traditional taxis. But they do present a challenge if riders begin to think they reflect a systemic disregard for passenger safety.
"As with airlines, if passenger safety becomes an ongoing issue with Uber rather than isolated incidents, it could face long-term consequences," said Alex Stanton, a crisis management and communications specialist. "At some level, there is a point at which safety does trump convenience."
The AP reported that cab drivers have seized on the safety issue saying that taxi drivers have to pass government-standard checks which cost more but do a better job screening out bad applicants. The Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association has launched a "Who's Driving You?" campaign targeting Uber and Lyft.