The ride-hailing app that everyone loves to use and loves to hate, Uber, is once again in the news today for several reasons. First off, the company has just released its first ever transparency report, detailing just how many times they were asked by, and complied with the government or local law enforcement agencies in requests for passenger data in criminal investigations or emergencies (a total of 33 times between July and December of last year, affecting approximately 11.6 million users of the app). And secondly, here in San Francisco, we're getting new details of a road rage incident that led to the death of one pedestrian in the Tenderloin last month.
On March 12, we had this report of one person injured and a man in his 50's dead following a hit-and-run at the intersection of Ellis and Leavenworth. Now, as the Chronicle reports, Uber passenger Jason West has come forward to describe a previously unreported road rage-inspired chase that he says led to the hit-and-run. And, he says, Uber had tried to have him silenced.
West, 52, says he was in the car of now former Uber driver Omar Dahmash that evening when Dahmash's Mercedes got into a fender-bender with a Dodge van. The incident began after Dahmash picked up West in SoMa and they headed toward Union Square where West was picking up friends, whom he was taking out for an evening in the Castro. On Geary Street between Powell and Mason, in the midst of traffic, there came a honk from behind them, and a silver Dodge van then attempted to pass Dahmash's car. According to West, Dahmash got angry and sped up as the van pulled to the left and the two collided.
West says he initially wanted to help the driver get a photo of the van's license plate, but what then happened was a 15-minute ordeal in which Dahmash chased the van at high speed, cresting steep hills and running red lights. They witnessed a commotion at Ellis and Leavenworth but did not realize the van had struck and killed a man, who was later identified as 56-year-old Michael Gillmore, a formerly homeless SF native who was living at the Jefferson Hotel on Eddy Street at the time.
They ultimately lost sight of the van in traffic on Van Ness, and West says Dahmash became agitated that he did not get a photo of the license plate.
The van and driver remain at large.
West decided to go to the press now that it appears he'll be filing suit against Uber. He says that following the incident, he got a call from an insurance adjuster representing Uber and offering him $2,500 for his pain and suffering. They then upped that to $6,000 and asked him to sign a release denying any liability on the part of the driver or Uber, but West tells the Chronicle it felt to him "like a gag order," especially in light of the pedestrian's death.
Dahmash denies West's account, saying he only chased the van for one block, however a route map on the app appears to support West's description of the chase.
An Uber rep confirmed that Dahmash's account had been deactivated after that trip, which they say did not meet the company's safety standards, but they wouldn't elaborate further.
Meanwhile, in other bad news for Uber in New York State, there's an ongoing case involving the company and a legal argument around price-fixing. There's a class action suit there on behalf of passengers, as Motherboard reports, that equates the app's surge pricing model and drivers' agreement to use it with conspiracy and so far, a judge appears to agree.
In a decision allowing the case to move forward, Judge Jed Rakoff makes the comparison with the Silk Road case, in which attorneys for defendant Ross Ulbricht argued that the platform itself was not illegal, merely the activities it was being used for. Says Judge Rakoff, "the Government charged the defendant with sitting ‘atop an overarching single conspiracy, which included all vendors who sold any type of narcotics on Silk Road at any time.’ [Similarly] Uber's digitally decentralized nature does not prevent the App from constituting a ‘marketplace’ through which Mr. [Travis] Kalanick organized a horizontal conspiracy among drivers.”
That case is set to go to trial in November.
Related: As Uber Settles With SF & LA For $25 Million, Lyft's Class Action Settlement Is Denied