Chicago rideshare drivers look for safety solutions

By Glenn Minnis

(The Center Square) – Chicago Gig Alliance organizer Lori Simmons is leading the charge in demanding city officials take action in response to a rash of recent rideshare driver robberies on the city’s West Side.

“It’s really scary,” Simmons told The Center Square after authorities recently issued a community alert about the attacks. “I did rideshare full-time for about five years, and I’m still on the platform as a part-time worker, and a lot of people that I know and care about do this work full-time. It’s really terrifying to see people take advantage of this platform, of the fact that it’s a dangerous job.”

Since that interview, Chicago police have issued yet another warning about a different robbery pattern on the West Side that involves gunmen who order rides via the Uber app.

Simmons said much of the danger stems from drivers not knowing what the people they’re picking up look like and none of them being required to use their legal names when signing up to use the app to request a ride.

“We literally have no idea who’s going to get in the car, so it makes it really easy for someone to take advantage of that either by using a fake name and pretending to be a passenger or for someone who just sees a rideshare vehicle outside and knows they can run up on the vehicle and the driver probably won’t know that it isn’t their passenger,” she added. “I’ve been trying to get some details from police about what were the circumstances of these incidents, but they really don’t want to talk about it.”

In a community alert issued late last month, the Chicago Police Department said drivers were being ambushed while picking up or dropping off passengers. Two rideshare drivers and a limo driver have been shot, two fatally, in the same area since early December.

Through CGA, drivers have long been calling for policies crafted to help keep them protected, including the Chicago Rideshare Living Wage and Safety Ordinance, which Simmons said also seeks to increase wages for drivers and provide them greater job security.

“We’re working with the city of Chicago to try to find ways to alleviate the dangers of doing this job,” she said. “The companies, at the very least, could do their due diligence in terms of who’s using the app. We might not know what’s going on outside the vehicle, but we at least want to know we’re not going to get robbed or murdered by our own passenger.”

Simmons added that among the steps she would like companies to take are requiring passengers’ ID and providing drivers with pictures of them. She pointed out that drivers must prove their identities via facial recognition by looking into their phones several times during a shift.

With Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration now in power at City Hall, Simmons said she is hopeful that change may be on the way, adding that the mayor recently invited CGA to take part in a hearing where a new committee of rideshare drivers, mail carriers, and bus drivers worked on safety solutions.

“Before Mayor Johnson was elected, we couldn’t get any traction talking with any of the mayors,” she said. “With the new administration, we were pleased to be invited to participate. We’re in the early stages, but I’m hopeful we can come up with some solutions to make drivers a little bit safer.”

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