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Ad Warns Riders About Uber and Lyft, But Some Call It Alarmist

New York Times: Original Story

Pamela Anderson walks down a city street and uses her cellphone to book a ride. Along the way, she passes a newspaper and street signs that say, “Hollywood Sexual Harassment Scandal Reaches New Lows” and “U.S. Senator Accused of Groping.” When she gets into the car, she sees another sign that says, “Ride-Hail Drivers Suspected of Rape.” The car doors lock, and the driver turns around and suggestively asks, “Shall we?” Just then, “#MeToo” pops up on her phone’s screen.

“When you accept a ride from a ride-hail app, you also accept the risks that come with it,” Ms. Anderson says in a voice-over. “Many ride-hail companies consider their drivers third-party providers, so they don’t have to accept any responsibility or accountability for their actions. Always ride responsibly.”

The 60-second ad, to be released Monday, is the third in a campaign introduced in 2015 by the National Limousine Association to promote Ride Responsibly, an initiative that encourages riders to “think before you app.”

It is an attempt by the association to focus on allegations of attacks by drivers for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft, which happen to be its competitors. In November, for instance, two women sued Uber, claiming their drivers raped them in separate cases in Florida and California. And last month an Uber driver in Beirut, Lebanon, was arrested in connection with the killing of Rebecca Dykes, a British diplomat.

In September, when Transport for London, the agency that oversees that city’s subways, buses and taxis, declined to renew Uber’s license to operate there, it said that “Uber’s approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues.” They included, it said, how Uber deals with serious criminal offenses and conducts driver background checks.

Although Ms. Anderson said the new ad was aimed at young ride-hailing customers, Scott Solombrino, a founder of the National Limousine Association and the chief executive of Dav El | BostonCoach, said it was also directed at corporate travel managers.

He said these managers “might not understand the risk factors” of using companies like Uber and Lyft, which he said were trying to move “into the corporate space.”

Some experts, however, question the association’s strategy and messaging.

“Some believe they can use regulation and scare tactics to halt an industry’s advancement,” said Greeley S. Koch, executive director of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, a trade group. “Business travelers are smart. They will make the best decision for their needs based on cost, convenience and safety.”

Gary L. Kessler, a member of the limousine group, said that “any conversations about safety in ground transportation are valid and productive discourses to have.” But not conversations that “oversimplify matters and demonize particular market participants,” added Mr. Kessler, whose chauffeur service, Carey International, recently established a partnership with Gett, a ride-sharing company backed by Volkswagen.

Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst for Atmosphere Research, suggested that “anyone who thinks the N.L.A. is sponsoring this purely out of the goodness of its heart is naïve.”

“The N.L.A. is sponsoring this because undoubtedly on-demand transportation networks are taking a meaningful amount of their business,” he said.

Asked to comment on the Ride Responsibly campaign, a Lyft spokeswoman, Alexandra LaManna, said it “misleads consumers about the many benefits and safety features of Lyft.”

“All drivers must pass rigorous screenings, including criminal background and driving-record checks, before they’re able to drive for Lyft, and every ride is covered by a $1 million liability insurance policy,” she added. “Implying otherwise is simply not true.”

Brooke Anderson, a spokeswoman for Uber, acknowledged that “no means of transportation is 100 percent free of incidents and accidents,” but added, “Uber feels a responsibility to contribute to safety, help fight tough issues and mitigate any incidents.”

Among the measures that Uber uses to promote these efforts, she said, are logging the driver’s information and making it available to the rider to verify the right car; tracking every trip with GPS technology; screening drivers; and offering a feature that lets riders and drivers send details of their trips to others who can monitor them.

The first video by the campaign, in 2015, was animated and did not involve Ms. Anderson. Her first video for the campaign, in 2016, featured her playing “The Driving Game,” interviewing contestants to be her driver.

She helped create the campaign’s second and third videos, and said that although she felt the second video should be “fun” to get viewers’ attention, she wanted the latest one “to be a more serious message, a more serious approach, with so many sexual assaults in the climate today.”

For the latest effort, Ms. Anderson also enlisted Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment — an organization that works nationwide to prevent sexual assault and heal survivors. On Monday, P.A.V.E. is starting a letter-writing campaign asking elected officials in every state to require ride-hailing services to adhere to minimum safety standards; it will also introduce a related social media campaign and website,