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Uber caught in apparent violation of its own policy against unaccompanied minors

Posted: 11:31 PM, Jan 03, 2019
Updated: 2019-01-04 02:43:36-05
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LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Uber drivers are trying to make sense of something they recently received from the company.

13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears caught the rideshare giant in an apparent violation of its own policy against drivers picking up unaccompanied children.

Now, Uber is backpedaling to fix what it's calling an 'unfortunate' choice of words.

Drivers call it 'an every day thing.'

Some parents say they only use it in a pinch while others count on it regularly.

No matter who you ask, you're apt to find many who don't know that Uber and Lyft have policies requiring riders to be 18 or older to use the app or ride alone.

"What's your understanding of the reasons for the policy?" Darcy Spears asked driver Braylin Taylor.

"Just child safety," Taylor responded.

Mugshots from across the country put a face on the risk parents take putting their children in rideshare cars with strangers.

A Denver-area Uber driver was arrested in November after he allegedly kidnapped and kissed a 15-year-old girl who was trying to get home from work.

An Uber driver in Southern California was charged with raping a minor teen girl.

And police say a Florida Lyft driver confessed to sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy.

13 investigates first exposed the problem of underage riders using Uber and Lyft several months ago.

One driver who asked not to be identified provided cell phone video he shot outside Bishop Gorman high school for a ride request that came through Lyft. A group of unaccompanied minor girls were trying to get a ride after one girl's father, who booked the ride, was turned down when he tried to book through Uber.

"I told your dad to come get you guys," the driver says on the cell phone video. He later told 13 Investigates, "I would never allow my child to ride with a stranger."

When that story aired in late October, Uber and Lyft sent statements reinforcing their policy against unaccompanied minors using the service, but drivers say it did little to curb the practice.

"There are so many children who still to this day will use it to get home from middle school or high school and I myself avoid driving between 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. just to avoid those rides because it's not worth it for me," said Braylin Taylor, who drives full-time for both Uber and Lyft.

A few weeks after our investigation aired, Uber sent an emal to drivers.

"Kind of a blanket email that basically was saying 'thank you for everything that you do, even thank you for being there after soccer practice when the parents can't be.' And I read that and I kind of scratched my head and just thought, well, wait a minute... Can we or can't we?" said Taylor.

He was stunned when he saw Uber's email and immediately shared it with 13 Investigates.

"It basically just says, 'We appreciate you when you pick up children.'"

Darcy Spears asked Uber about it and spent nearly two weeks chasing down a response.

No one would go on camera, but they sent a statement saying, "The word choice in that email is not in line with our policy and we are dealing with that internally."

They later added, "Our policy has not changed. Only adults can have an Uber rider account. We regret if the language in the recent email caused any confusion."

Then, on December 13, another notification went out to Uber drivers across the country through the company's blog.

Uber said they'd been working on it for a while to clear up any confusion and to clearly articulate their policies to drivers.

But the first sentence says "Many families use the Uber app in their daily lives..." specifically for things like "Getting kids to after-school sports..."

"Boom! There it is again!" said Taylor. "It basically tells me when the parents are too busy, I can take their child to after-school sports."

"So, if this was meant to clarify the previous email...?" asked Spears.

"It actually clarified that we can continue taking unaccompanied minors," Taylor answered.

The rest of the blog details the policy about an adult needing to be present with a minor, but if there were an adult available to ride with kids to after-school sports, there would be no need for Uber.

"Even with the statement of the policy here you feel like it's still so nebulous that it calls the policy into question?" asked Spears.

"Yeah," said Taylor. "It absolutely does."

When Spears asked Uber about that second email, a spokesman said the intent was to acknowledge that parents do use the service for unaccompanied children, but then to explain the policy against it.

He agreed the language could be misinterpreted and said it might change in the future.

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