Should Uber and Lyft Do More to Protect Drivers?

Is driver safety being taken seriously enough by rideshare and delivery companies? Senior RSG contributor Sergio Avedian isn’t so sure. Below, he shares a story of a carjacking experience and what the rideshare companies did to handle this situation. Are you surprised by their response? 

Not a day goes by that we don’t hear about driver assaults, carjackings, and unfortunately the killing of rideshare or delivery workers around the country. Although Uber and Lyft have introduced tools in the app to protect drivers, I believe we are on our own.

As a veteran driver of seven years, I have created my own safeguards, and I urge all drivers to do the same. No amount of money Uber or Lyft is going to pay you is worth taking on a trip that looks fishy from the start. Cancel the ride and move on; trust your gut; your life is worth a lot more than a passenger waiting a few extra minutes to get picked up.

As I previously said, Show Me The Money Club (SMTMC) has been an amazing experience for me over the past six months. Our weekly live-stream has given me a platform to inform and educate drivers all over the country. I have also met wonderful drivers who literally have become an extra set of eyes and ears for me in many cities throughout the nation. My gratitude is endless for our growing community and your support is much appreciated.

Watch the latest Show Me the Money Club episodes here.

One of these people is Babajide Sarumi. His story hit me hard, and with his permission, I felt compelled to share it with our readers/viewers. What happened to him could have happened to anyone.

Before continuing, I want to make it clear I don’t blame Uber or Lyft for the events that happened below, but I do think rideshare companies need to do more to help drivers when terrible things do happen. Sarumi has created a petition for driver safety that you can sign here.

Babajide Sarumi and How He Got Started with Rideshare Driving

Sarumi was born in Nigeria, and at the age of 25, he left everything behind and immigrated to the US through a Green Card lottery he won in his native country. Like most immigrants, he wanted to better his life, and his story is nothing short of remarkable.

As soon as Sarumi arrived, he started working at a fast food restaurant, and in April 2006 he joined the Navy Reserves. He was deployed to Iraq in 2008 and was there for ten months.

After getting honorably discharged from the military, he settled down in Houston, Texas and got a job as a security guard while he was attending college. He graduated from the University of Houston with a BA in warehouse management and got a job at a major oil company, where he worked for six years.

Everything was trending up for him until hurricane Harvey hit in 2017 when he lost everything again except his car. He had to dig deep and figure out how to survive, and that is when he started driving for Uber in 2018.

Sarumi and his rideshare vehicle

The Trip That Changed Everything

As rideshare drivers, we are exposed to all kinds of people and situations. 99% of the rides we give are pleasant and uneventful, but all it takes is one to change someone’s life.

During the early morning hours of January 23, 2022, Sarumi got a request and, as we all do, drove to the pickup spot where four teenagers were waiting. The teens got in the car, but when he started the ride, Sarumi got a weird feeling in the pit of his stomach – this trip was just going around the block.

His guard was up during this minimum fare trip as he noticed that the pickup and dropoff were literally the same address. With that in mind, he took the four teenagers to their destination, and they proceeded to get out of his car.

The next moment, Sarumi had a gun pointed at his head on the driver’s side as well as a gun pointed at him on the passenger side of the car. He was ordered to get out, at which point he thought he was going to get killed. He left everything in the car, including his phone and keys in the ignition; he was just praying that these were not his last moments on earth.

In Sarumi’s own words:

“I was robbed at gunpoint by four teenagers while driving for Uber around 2:18 am on Jan 23, 2022. I got robbed of my car (Black Dodge Avenger, and all my properties inside the car and in the trunk) by my Uber passengers. They pretended to get out of the car and suddenly flanked me with two pistols on both sides of my car. Felt like a dream and I literally thought I was going to die that night. It is true that your life flashes before you! 

All I was able to tell them was “please don’t shoot… you can have the car”. I heard the teenager on my driver side screaming “get out” twice. I immediately obeyed him, got out of the car, and ran for my life. At that point, I was afraid he could still shoot me in my back, so I kept running as fast as I could to put distance between us.”

Once he was clear of danger, he asked two strangers to call 911. When the police showed up, he filed a report and witnessed Houston Police trying to contact Uber Safety line, which went unanswered. HPD started scouring the area for the carjackers and told Sarumi that this is the common response and that the police always had a hard time reaching the Uber Safety teams to get immediate information regarding the suspect’s identity. Sarumi’s case was turned over to a detective, and he was assigned a case number.

Since he had left everything in his car, it took him a day to contact the Uber Safety team and report the incident. A few days later, the Uber Safety team called Sarumi, and their response was nothing short of insulting, as you will see in the screenshots below. Here is a driver in need, and all they could do is offer Sarumi assistance to get him into a rental car to continue driving.

A few days later, the detective in charge of the investigation called Sarumi and informed him that the juvenile criminals had used his car during another robbery and crashed it. They were going to hold his car to do forensics and told him that he would get his car out of police custody when they finished the investigation. A month later, Sarumi got his badly damaged car.

Uber’s Safety Team Responses

A month went by, at this time Sarumi was contacted by the detective assigned to his case who asked him if he could identify the criminal in a photo lineup, which he was able to do. The carjacker was arrested and charged. Then Sarumi contacted Uber Support again on February 25, 2022, and to his amazement found out that there was no record of this incident on Uber’s systems. The agent boldly told him that his case must have fallen through the cracks.

The Story Takes an Unexpected Turn

I would think the laws in Texas would be tougher when it comes to dealing with a serious crime such as carjacking. Unfortunately, since the criminals were juveniles, the Fort Bend County district attorney made a deal to only charge them with “Unauthorized Use of Vehicle” and they avoided going to detention or jail. They were ordered to pay restitution for Sarumi‘s damages of $4000.

In October 2022, the criminal case was resolved. The juvenile perpetrator was ordered to pay Sarumi $100 a month for the next 40 months. What are the odds of Sarumi getting paid in full? As of December 2022, he still has not signed the order.

Takeaways for Drivers

What is this world coming to? Unfortunately, amazing people like Sarumi keep driving for Uber and justice does not prevail. I am sick and tired of hearing drivers getting hurt in the line of duty without recourse in most cases.

We must put a stop to this, especially criminals who can order the victims of these violent acts to come to them. How can we accomplish that? The TNCs must change their policies to onboard riders on the platforms. They must require all passengers to upload valid government IDs instead of fake names or debit cards. During my interview with Sachin Kansal, I was assured that things will change; time will tell.

After all, the passengers know everything about the driver when they request a ride: name, car make, and model, rating, picture, experience, etc. What kind of information is the driver given? Not much other than where to pick the passenger up and their rider rating. No Uber and Lyft, that is not enough. Be safe out there!

What do you think rideshare and gig work companies should do to keep gig workers safe? Share your thoughts in the comment section!

-Sergio @ RSG