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Cabbies: Boston Uber rape allegations show need for regulation

An Uber app is seen on an iPhone in Beverly Hills, California, December 19, 2013.CREDIT: REUTERS/LUCY NICHOLSON

Local taxi advocates say a recent rapeallegation against an Uber driver is proof that rideshare services need to be regulated just as tightly as the cab industry.

Wednesday evening, the Middlesex District Attorney’s office announced that Alejandro Done, a 46-year-old Uber driver from Boston, was charged with rape, assault to rape, kidnapping and assault and battery.

Prosecutors say Done pulled up to a residence on Tremont Street in Boston, on at around 7:30 p.m. on December 6, to pick up the alleged victim, described by authorities as a young woman.

Done drove his victim to a secluded area in Cambridge, then jumped in the backseat where the victim was sitting, said prosecutors.

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The Uber driver then struck her with his hands, strangled her, locked the car doors so that she could not escape and covered her mouth so she could not scream. During an ensuing physical struggle, he allegedly sexually assaulted the woman, according to authorities.

Tiffany Mitchell, a manager for the Revere-based City Cab and Top Cab, said the attack could have been prevented with tighter rideshare rules.

“This is result of those vehicles not being regulated, not being monitored,” she said.

“I don’t think regulations would prevent that,” said Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley. “Rapes can happen anywhere anytme. I’m disturbed about sexual assault year round, and the work that needs to be done to end rape is much bigger than regulation of rideshare.

Ridesharing is “the wild west,” said Stephen Regan, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Regional Taxi Advocacy Group. Existing rules that could regulate rideshares are not being enforced, he said.

“If you take somebody from Point A to Point B and you charge for that and you’re not registered with the city of Boston Police hackney unit – that’s illegal,” he said.

“Allowing these entities to exist and compete on the street without being appropriately regulated, it’s lowered the defenses of a number of people,” said Regan. “Five years ago, our parents told us ‘Don’t get in the car with strangers.’ That was ingrained in us.”

Regan called a proposal on Beacon Hill to regulate rideshares is toothless. He said local municipalities should be given the opportunity to craft regulations that work for their community and the current bill doesn’t do that. A formal hearing on that bill is scheduled for later this month.

“With taxi drivers, there’s a mindfulness. They know they’re going to be held accountable. With the rideshare companies, there’s not that accountability, they feel like they can get away with it,” said Cheryl Horan, vice president of Green Cab and Yellow Cab of Somerville.

Uber says its drivers are accountable. Riders can view the driver’s face, name, type of car, license plate and track the driver on a map, said company spokesman Taylor Bennett. “We have created the safest platform in transportation,” said Bennett.

He said Uber currently performs background checks and is looking at ways to improve such screenings. He added the company is exploring ways riders can communicate with the company more directly during an emergency.

Uber characterized the charges facing Done as a “despicable crime,” said the company’s “thoughts and prayers are with the victim” and added that it plans to do everything it can to help with the investigation.”

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s office said the city’s Taxi Advisory Committee is “currently engaged with stakeholders from various transportation-for-hire-services.

“These incidents are completely unacceptable and Boston Police are actively investigating each report,” said Gabrielle Farrell, a spokeswoman for Mayor Walsh. “We always encourage residents and visitors to exercise caution when utilizing any transportation service."

 
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