Uber Passenger Alleges Verbal and Physical Assault by Driver
James Alva works in both the tech and nonprofit sectors, and has an office in a sleek new work-share tower housing dozens of largely cutting edge businesses and overlooking the heart of Mid-Market.
He is, in many ways, the prototypical San Franciscan. He's certainly the prototypical Uber user.
But not anymore.
Following an incident in the wee hours Sunday, Alva took to every form of social media available to him to publicize his allegation that Uber driver "Daveea" physically assaulted him after calling him a "dirty Mexican" and a "faggot."
Alva's story -- now San Francisco Police Case No. 130995523 -- begins at 1:52 a.m. on Sunday.
After leaving a Castro bar, he summoned an UberX ride on his iPhone app for the 0.7-mile ride up Market Street -- just as he's done dozens of times before. A notification on his phone flashed a photo of the driver that would meet him in a silver Toyota Prius.
He was a little surprised when, he says, a blue Prius showed up with a different license plate and, to his recollection, a different-looking driver than the man in the photo. But the driver said "Are you James?" And, after all, he was. So he got in.
Things went poorly.
@GeorgeGascon I hope that ur ofc accepts the case. Used racial & homophobic slurs against me & hit me. Case #:130995523. Thx 4 consideration-- James Alva (@JamesAlva) November 24, 2013
Alva claims that the driver grew surly when given directions instead of home address, and snapped when his passenger began attempting to verify that this was, in actuality, the right driver. "He started saying I was a dirty Mexican faggot, things like that, as he was still driving," claims Alva. The driver then pulled over at around 18th and Market and, per the passenger, said "You know what? You gotta get out of my car."
The subsequent receipt for this trip -- $14, incidentally -- reveals the driver and passenger shared a ride for just 2 minutes, 55 seconds.
Alva claims the driver swatted the iPhone out of his hands when he attempted to snap a photo from the back seat, then shoved him and swatted the phone away once more when Alva photographed the vehicle's rear license plate. Alva phoned 911 shortly after 2 a.m. He took police up on their suggestion he initiate a citizen's arrest, and was provided with a "reportee follow-up," explaining a police report would be generated in seven to 10 days.
The officer on scene determined there "was not probable cause to arrest the driver for battery" on-site, per a police spokesman, and the case has been forwarded to the District Attorney "for further consideration." The driver and passenger left, separately, without further incident.
Alva's flurry of activity on social media and direct missives to Uber resulted in a phone call from Matthew Hearns, the San Francisco community manager for Uber. Alva was, first of all, refunded his 14 bucks. He was told the driver in question was under temporary suspension. And he was told that Uber would be cooperative at which time -- if ever -- police followed up on the case.
Alva is still uncertain, however, how this blue car -- and driver -- showed up in lieu of the silver car he was expecting. Uber spokesman Andrew Noyes told SF Weekly the driver in question works for a partner livery service operating more than 40 vehicles. That company, Noyes says, recently "received new plates for the car and the update had not yet registered in our system."
Asked how this would explain a different-colored car than Alva's recollection, Noyes noted that this incident took place in the very early hours, following the rider's time in a bar: So, "we're not going to get in a back and forth with the rider over allegations."
Alva remains concerned that the driver he received was not the man the iPhone app promised. Past drivers have told him they "share phones," and he wonders if drivers pass around their phones and onboard hardware -- making a mockery of Uber's reassuring notification to would-be passengers of exactly who will be picking them up.
Noyes said this would violate Uber policy -- and assured us that the driver who picked up Alva, and is currently suspended, was also the man dispatched for the job. And yet, Noyes still says that riders should never get into a car that doesn't match the description of the vehicle they were waiting for.
@JamesAlva don't hesitate to contact my office if you have any questions. Take care.-- George Gascón (@GeorgeGascon) November 25, 2013
Just how much responsibility Uber has for its drivers' alleged actions remains to be seen. It still, after all, claims to merely be a tech platform connecting riders and drivers. And the driver in question, like all drivers, is not an Uber employee -- and, in fact, is only affiliated with a third-party partner entity that, itself, is only contracted by Uber.
Past allegations of wrongdoing by Uber drivers have resulted in ambiguous company statements. A claim that a Washington, D.C. Uber driver assaulted his passengers spurred company CEO Travis Kalanick to fire off an in-house e-mail stating it'd be wrong to "come away thinking we are responsible even when these things do go bad." Uber's terms of service deny any liability with regards to its third-party partner entities.
Alva, meanwhile, has had his fill with Uber. From now on, he says, he'll take cabs. Or, perhaps, throw his thrice-a-week business to Lyft. A company built around fist-bumps, goofy pink mustaches, and having riders sit in the front seat, he figures, might make for a happier experience.