Uber app screenshot

The Uber app displays cars available for hire in Madison.

A woman who used the ride-hailing service Uber over the weekend told police her driver touched her inappropriately and sent her unwanted text messages — the second allegation of misconduct against one of the company’s Madison drivers in as many days.

The reports prompted local legislators to urge Gov. Scott Walker to veto a set of regulations for Uber and similar companies passed by the state Legislature earlier this month, saying they provide “minimal state oversight and no local oversight” of the ride-hailing app industry.

The incidents happened about 24 hours apart early Saturday and Sunday mornings, and both cases involved Uber drivers picking up female passengers from Downtown locations after bar time before making unwanted sexual advances on them.

Authorities say they do not believe the incidents are related, and they appear to involve different drivers.

As police investigate the allegations, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin criticized Uber’s response to the incidents, saying the San Francisco-based company has “stonewalled” authorities.

Police say Uber representatives told investigators they would not identify the drivers involved without a search warrant or subpoena.

“This does not bode well for the safety of passengers who should choose to use this form of transportation,” Soglin said.

Uber spokeswoman Lauren Altmin said the drivers involved in both incidents have been deactivated from the service.

She said the company’s privacy policy prevents it from disclosing “private account holder information without their permission or the proper legal documents.”

“We did provide the authorities with proper instructions on how to proceed with their request,” Altmin said.

The first incident began when a 23-year-old woman used the Uber app to request a ride home from the intersection of Langdon Street and Wisconsin Avenue around 2:30 a.m. Saturday.

Madison Police spokesman Joel DeSpain said the driver had the woman sit in the car’s front seat, then “touched her leg and arm several times while telling her that he liked her.”

The driver also told the woman he was going to take her “someplace other than her apartment,” DeSpain said, and at first refused when she asked to be let out of the car.

Police noted the woman had bruises on her legs after the incident.

On Sunday morning, a 26-year-old woman got a ride from a Downtown bar to her apartment on Madison’s West Side.

When the trip was finished, police said, the driver reached over to where the woman was sitting, took her hand and kissed it, then tried to pull her closer and kiss her.

The woman later received text messages and phone calls from the driver, police said.

Uber and similar services use smartphone apps to connect passengers seeking rides with drivers using their personal vehicles. Drivers and passengers can access one another’s contact information during the trip.

The woman had at first only contacted Uber’s customer service team to report the incident, DeSpain said, but later called Madison police after she read a news report about the other weekend incident.

DeSpain said it is “always a possibility” that there have been other incidents involving drivers that have not been reported, and asked anyone with a similar experience to come forward.

“If someone is being transported in a cab — I don’t care what company it is — and the driver accosts them … they should contact us and let us investigate,” DeSpain said.

Uber drivers in several cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., have been accused of sexually assaulting passengers, according to local media and a list of incidents compiled by the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association.

The group represents the industry now competing with Uber.

Soglin criticizes company delays

A detective is investigating both reports, DeSpain said, and is working to identify the drivers involved. After Uber refused their first request, DeSpain said, authorities will subpoena the company for driver information.

Police have not been able to interview either of the drivers accused of misconduct, DeSpain said.

At a press conference Tuesday, Soglin said that if Uber were following regulations passed by Madison’s City Council last month, authorities would have been able to easily identify and interview the drivers, as they could with someone working for a traditional taxi service.

While Altmin said Uber “will continue to assist the police department in support of this investigation,” Soglin accused the company of delaying authorities.

“It is taking time and resources unnecessarily because of the attitude of this billion-dollar international corporation, which does not respect the law,” Soglin said.

Reps urge veto

Eleven state representatives, all Democrats representing parts of Dane County, signed a letter Tuesday decrying Uber’s response to the allegations and calling on Walker to veto state regulations for Transportation Network Companies such as Uber.

Those regulations are far less restrictive of the industry than the ones passed by the city of Madison, and bar municipalities from enacting their own rules for the companies.

The legislators who wrote to Walker on Tuesday said the bill amounted to “arguably the most lax safety regulations in the country for TNCs.”

If the regulations become law, Soglin, who led the charge to pass more stringent rules for the ride-hailing industry in Madison, said the city attorney’s office and others are considering challenging them in court over what he called their preemption of local control.

Walker has not said if he will sign the bill. A call seeking comment from his office Tuesday was not returned.


Nico Savidge is the higher education reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.