Sex Charge, Lawsuit Bedevil Uber in Dallas

           DALLAS (CN) – An Uber driver is accused of rape, and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is endangering the public by letting Uber and Lyft operate there, a cab drivers association claims in court.
     The Association of Taxicab Operators USA sued the airport board in Dallas County Court on Friday. It seeks a restraining order and injunction against the airport’s new policy allowing any vehicle allowed to operate by the cities of Dallas or Fort Worth to pick up passengers at the airport.
     The cabbies were dealt a blow Tuesday morning when Judge Bonnie Lee Goldstein declined to temporarily block enforcement of the new policies.
     Goldstein agreed with the airport board that it has not done anything illegal.
     The airport board’s attorney, Jerry L. Beane with Andrews Kurth in Dallas, argued the cabbies failed to state a cause of action and that their only gripe is that “there is too much competition and [they] want to go back to the old rules.”
     Several cab drivers were in the galley during the hearing. Muneeb Awan said afterward he is at a competitive disadvantage charging a city-mandated $45 flat fee for rides to the airport while Uber and Lyft can charge almost half that much.
     “We will probably go completely go out of business,” Awan told reporters outside the courtroom. “It is completely unfair.”
     Until this month, the airport allowed taxicab service only with airport-issued permits that were “limited in distribution.” The cabbies say the new policy will cause a “feeding frenzy” and ruin their members’ business.
     “The number of taxicab drivers that will be fighting each other for customers without the maintenance of the permitting status quo is unknown, but estimates are that the number of drivers seeking to obtain airport customers could double or triple,” the complaint states.
     Unlike Uber and Lyft, the cabbies say, they must meet safety requirements to get an airport permit, including car inspections and background checks. The association says that 500 to 700 of its 1,400 members with airport permits “derive their business from patiently working their way through the queue to obtain fare-paying passengers.”
     The association says it is “extremely concerned that adequate safeguards are not in place to protect the public, particularly after an Uber driver that was operating under false pretenses was arrested on July 31, 2015 for sexual assault of a passenger in Dallas, after having been inadequately screened by Uber.”
     Uber driver Talal Chammout was arrested on July 25 and charged with sexually assaulting a Dallas woman after driving her home. He was jailed under $100,000 and when his attorney asked for a reduction, the judge raised it to $250,000.
     Dallas County Judge Gracie Lewis cited the seriousness of the sexual assault charge and Chammout’s previous convictions for assault and federal weapons violations, according to the Dallas Morning News.
     Chammout, 56, a native of Lebanon, was convicted in 1995 of assault with force likely to cause great bodily harm. He was accused in 2006 of buying military equipment to send outside the United States, the newspaper reported. A charge of being a felon in possession of weapons was added to those charges and he was sentenced to 6½ years in prison and released in 2012. He
     Uber Dallas general manager Leandre Johns apologized to the city and to the victim in an Aug. 7 letter . He acknowledged that Uber had made a mistake. Johns claimed that Chammout’s Uber account “was marked as ‘Will Not Be Driving,'” after he applied in January 2014 to be an “UberBLACK partner” to “generate business for his family’s limo company.”
     But in April this year, Uber “mistakenly granted Mr. Chammout access to Uber as a driver.”
     “It appears that the license Mr. Chammout provided when he initially applied to use UberBLACK as a partner was fake,” Johns’ 1-page letter states. “This means he never underwent either a City of Dallas or Uber background check.”
     John said Uber has reviewed its records to confirm that every driver or limousine company owner in the city has had a background check.
     “In this instance, however, our policies and procedures were not followed as they should have been, for which we are truly sorry,” Johns wrote. “We are determined to learn from the mistakes that were made so we can do better in the future. Our thoughts are with the victim and her family.”
     Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
     The taxi association seeks an injunction, temporary restraining order and costs of suit. It is represented by D. Shawn Stevens in Dallas.
     Two customers sued Uber last week in Virginia, claiming a driver beat up a woman and held another customer hostage while he did it.
     Taxi driver associations around the world have battled Uber since the Internet ride-hailing service became a billion-dollar business. Many cities in Europe, and some in the United States have tried to bar or limit Uber from town, citing safety.

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