SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The district attorneys of San Francisco and Los Angeles sued Uber, a transportation service that allows passengers to hail a ride via smartphone, for allegedly misleading users about its background check process for drivers and for illegally charging customers for rides to and from airports.
The complaint filed in state court by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey cites a litany of incidents where passengers have been imperiled by Uber drivers.
Uber drivers are nonprofessionals and are screened by an outside firm called Hirease Inc. But Uber does not require them to submit their fingerprints, a standard practice in the taxi industry.
Among the news items cited in the complaint is a Chicago Tribune article about a 24-year-old Uber driver's burglary conviction in 2010, a misdemeanor conviction for breaking into a car to steal a GPS and satellite radio receiver in 2008, as well as his history of speeding tickets and two-time license suspension.
The cities' lawsuit comes on the heels of one filed Monday by the city of Portland, Ore., to stop Uber from operating there, as well as orders this week from government officials in Spain and Thailand to cease operations in the two countries.
The complaint by L.A. and San Francisco notes that Uber touts its process of background checks as "often more rigorous that what is required to become a taxi driver."
"Uber's response to well-publicized incidents involving its drivers is to repeat its misleading mantra about the quality of its background check process, and to continue to assure the public that it does everything it can to ensure its customers' safety," the complaint says, calling those representations "untrue and misleading."
The complaint also says Uber violates the terms of its California Public Utilities Commission permit by giving customers rides to and from airports despite repeated cease-and-desist letters warning Uber that its drivers were trespassing.
For the better part of 2014, Los Angeles International Airport issued more than 260 citations and impounded the vehicles of Uber drivers, the complaint says, adding that the enforcement efforts cracked down on only a "tiny fraction" of unauthorized trips by Uber drivers to LAX and San Francisco International Airport.In the past four years, Uber drivers have made at least 100,000 illegal airport trips according to the complaint.
"Moreover, at SFO, Uber gave its drivers a financial incentive to break the law," by charging customers a $4.00 "airport fee toll" without paying anything to the airport, the cities claim.
The DAs also sued Uber's biggest competitor Lyft, but on Tuesday Lacey and Gascon announced that they had reached a $500,000 settlement.
"The settlement with Lyft demonstrates that technical innovation and corporate responsibility are not incompatible," Lacey and Gascon said in a statement.
Lyft agreed to submit its fare-calculating technology to an evaluation by the state's Department of Food and Agriculture's Division of Measurement Standards, and to cease making any misleading statements about its background checks. It will also inform its drivers to stop picking up and dropping off passengers at airports.
Lacey added: "Unfortunately, Uber, unlike Lyft, has refused to comply with reasonable regulations as required by California law. As a result, Uber continues to put consumers at risk by misleading the public about the background checks of its drivers and its unwillingness to ensure that correct fares are charged."
The counties' lawsuit against Uber asked for an order to stop Uber from making misleading statements about background checks and operating at airports. It also demands civil penalties of $500,000.Follow @MariaDinzeo
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