Uber in spotlight after driver shot dead

The shooting of Uber driver Webb-Law Chehore in Rondebosch in the early hours of Good Friday comes only five months after Stellenbosch University graduate Carl Ronald Schoombie was dragged from an Uber taxi and fatally beaten in the suburb.

Mr Chehore’s death in Burg Road near the Baxter Theatre, at about 5am, last Friday, together with Mr Schoombie’s death in November, has raised concerns about how both Uber drivers and passengers might be protected against such attacks.

Mr Chehore’s son, Nani, suspects his father was followed on his way to pick up two passengers. The two women heard shots before being picked up and found Mr Chehore covered in blood when they climbed into the car.

No arrests have been made.

In a statement following the shooting, Uber said: “On Friday, March 25 we received a notification that a driver-partner had been involved in a violent crime. After speaking to the authorities, it would appear this act of violence is in no way related to the driver operating on the Uber platform.

“Our thoughts and hearts go out to victim’s family in the midst of this tragedy and we extend our sincerest condolences.”

Police spokesperson Constable Noloyiso Rwexana confirmed that the shooting could not be linked to Mr Chehore’s status as an Uber driver.

Two men, Brent Henry, 38, and Juane Jacobs, 35, have been arrested for the murder of Mr Schoombie. Both men will be appearing in court on Friday April 29 to establish a trial date.

Mr Schoombie had been at the Tiger Tiger nightclub in Claremont with friends, and had left in an Uber taxi heading towards Rondebosch when the taxi was forced off the road.

An Uber spokesperson said this week it took the safety of both passengers and drivers very seriously and was always trying to look for ways to improve the technology to enable a safer trip.

“Safety is built into every trip – be it through giving riders information about their driver-partner; tracking all trips using GPS from beginning to end, enabling riders to share their ETA or route or incorporating feedback from riders and driver-partners.

“The in­app safety features and practices listed occur in addition to a driver screening process making Uber a safe and reliable way to get from A to B.

“Our global safety and city operations teams work every day to continue enhancing safety for everyone using Uber, and we are committed to providing a service that riders can rely on.”

However, the spokesperson could not comment on how the company would protect drivers and passengers from violent crimes, or whether new measures would be introduced to reduce the risk of such incidents following the shooting of Mr Chehore.

Mr Schoombie’s brother, Lee, who has set up the Facebook page Justice for CARL, believes Uber could be doing more in terms of security.

“In my brother’s case, I asked questions about why the driver was trying to get away from the chasing car (in which the two suspects were following), instead of going straight to the police station. Maybe they should look at more security training for the drivers,” Lee said.

“There are rumours that drivers have a panic button, but we’ve never seen evidence of this. In the past two years, Cape Town has seen a huge increase in violent crime – I think we’re now the ninth most violent city in the world – and everything should be done to protect drivers and passengers.”

US-based rideshare expert Harry Campbell, who runs the website TheRideshareGuy.com, told the Tatler he believed Uber could definitely be doing more to protect its drivers.

“The problem is that being a taxi driver is inherently unsafe, so although Uber eliminates some of the risk with cashless payments and GPS tracking, drivers are still having to deal with riders and other aspects that may be looking to cause trouble,” Mr Campbell said by email.

“Ninety-nine percent of rides go off without a hitch, but when that 1 percent does cause problems, drivers need to be prepared.

“Uber isn’t legally allowed to provide basic safety training, though, in many cases, or hasn’t made it a priority so it puts drivers at risk.”