Attempted stabbing incident: Uber responds

San Francisco based ride-hailing company Uber is in the news again in Sri Lanka as a social media post recounting an incident of attempted stabbing by an Uber driver partner went viral earlier this week.

Uber user Pujana Wethasinghe took to Facebook on February 10 to recount a horrific story of a disagreement over a payment method that allegedly escalated into near-violence.

According to the post, the Uber driver in question had told Wethasinghe and his friend Rahul Vithanage to step out of the vehicle upon learning that the hire was to be paid for by credit card. (A recurring complaint among Uber drivers is that the company takes at least a week to realise credit card payments; hence a fairly well documented and not entirely unreasonable preference on the part of drivers for cash payments). The two friends had obliged, only to have the driver brandish a knife at them moments later.

“I fell to the floor and lifted my hand up which had my phone to protect myself however I can but simultaneously rahul lunged at him with the bottle he had in his hand that he had picked up from home (imagine we didn’t have that?) he grabbed my phone out of my hand in that split second and dashed it probably thinking the trip details were on my phone. I in the meantime managed to get on my feet as he was dashing it and kicking the pieces away and we both ran away. As we were running we saw him run to his car and try to run us over thats right RUN US OVER! We luckily managed to jump into another lane and run into a neighbors house and hide until we could find another way out of there (sic),” Wethasinghe wrote in his Facebook post which has been shared over 2,300 times with over 800 comments.

Wethasinghe confirmed to EconomyNext that he had lodged a complaint with the Mirihana police over the incident, though at the time of writing we were unable to independently verify the existence of a formal complaint.

Asked if the company was aware of the incident, a spokesperson for Uber told this website that it has barred the driver from the service.

“What has been described is deeply concerning and something no one should ever go through on our platform. We have barred the driver partner’s access to the Uber app and we stand ready to assist law enforcement authorities with their investigations,” the company said in an email response to a series of questions that went largely unanswered.

Uber Sri Lanka has, over the past few months, been at the receiving end of a barrage of complaints over alleged incidents of harassment, sexual or otherwise, and subpar customer service.

In December, last year, an Uber driver allegedly slammed a passenger against the vehicle and left him stranded and unconscious, with a head injury to boot. Social media sites have been replete with complaints of sexual harassment of female passengers and numerous accounts of unresolved disputes over cancellation fees and other issues.

On December 18, Uber announced two new features: A two-way anonymisation feature to dissuade post-ride harassment and a limit on the number of driving hours to reduce the risk of driver fatigue.

Apart from these, however, the company’s response overall to repeated complaints has left a lot to be desired. Customers have accused Uber of being faceless and barely responsive on its social media channels. Its Twitter account @Uber_SL for example has – for all intents and purposes – been reduced to a bot and, at the time of writing, remains locked, displaying highly unusual social media behaviour for a corporate brand.

Uber declined to answer questions about, among other things, drivers’ issue with card payments, the company’s social media presence or lack thereof, its driver partner vetting process and the lack of a dedicated customer care hotline in Sri Lanka.

However, EconomyNext has been promised an interview with a representative for Uber India who will be in Colombo at the end of this month. Await detailed follow up.

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