The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit has obtained video that appears to show a Lyft driver punching a pedestrian. The video comes to light just weeks after a driver for Uber Technologies, another app-based car service, was involved in a fatal accident in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve.
It is the latest incident involving a driver working for so-called Transportation Network Companies.
The man who shot the video said that he has seen many drivers that work for TNCs behaving badly on city streets. He said he wanted to document this latest incident that he witnessed.
The man claims that, shortly after he saw the driver of a Lyft car park illegally in the middle of a crosswalk, he decided to take photos and video using his cellphone camera.
Lyft Founder John Zimmer
The man who shot the video asked that his name and identity remain anonymous, because he is a licensed taxi cab driver in the city. “I would probably fear some retaliation,” he told NBC Bay Area in a recent interview. He wasn’t driving at time of the incident and currently does not work for a cab company, but he holds a San Francisco taxi medallion.
The man said the situation immediately turned violent. “The driver says, ‘Why are you taking a picture of my car?’ He says, ‘What you doing?’ I say, ‘It doesn’t matter, you are parking illegally; I am going to take a picture.’ You see him start to confront me and start to throw a couple punches.”
NBC Bay Area requested an interview with the driver seen in the video. He declined our requests. Instead he sent the Investigative Unit an e-mail to explain his actions.
He argued that he was not working for Lyft at the time of the incident even though his car had a pink mustache on it. Instead, he was simply checking on his father who owns a liquor store on the corner and had been robbed at gunpoint several times.
“I have since learned that this individual was a medallion holder. While this isn't an excuse to get upset and lose my cool, which I wish I hadn't done, I was concerned for my dad and the store and felt threatened by this individual at the time,” he explained.
The incident comes to light just weeks after another TNC driver was involved in a fatal accident. Syed Muzzafar, a driver with the San Francisco ridesharing service Uber, was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter for striking and killing a 6-year-old girl in the city's Tenderloin neighborhood on New Year's Eve.
Sophia Liu was struck as she crossed the street with her mother and brother at Polk and Ellis streets at about 8 p.m. The family of the girl has filed a lawsuit against Massafar and Uber.
Uber officials denied multiple requests for an on-camera interview. A spokesperson said Muzzafar did not have a passenger in his car at the time of the collision.
“If drivers are not providing an Uber service, they are not with Uber. They are a private citizen in a private car,” Andrew Noyes of Uber said.
Noyes also said that “every driver that uses Uber’s platform must pass an extensive background check… In fact, Uber's background checks are stricter and safer than SFMTA's.”
The SFMTA or the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency regulates taxi drivers and taxi companies in the city. The rules surrounding insurance for TNCs are different than those for taxis.
Paul Rose of SFMTA explained that “in a collision or incident that occurs in between fares, we would still have jurisdiction and would follow up with the driver and company.”
As of Jan. 2, TNCs were required to apply for permits with the State Public Utilities Commission or the CPUC. The CPUC established 28 rules and regulations for TNCs.
Here are a few of the most important:
- Obtain a license from the CPUC to operate in California;
- Require each driver to undergo a criminal background check;
- Establish a driver training program;
- Implement a zero-tolerance policy on drugs and alcohol;
- Hold a commercial liability insurance policy that is more stringent than the CPUC’s current requirement for limousines, requiring a minimum of $1 million per-incident coverage for incidents involving TNC vehicles and drivers in transit to or during a TNC trip, regardless of whether personal insurance allows for coverage; and,
- Conduct a 19-point car inspection.
But the recent incidents have raised questions about whether app-based car services need more training and oversight. The man who filmed the Lyft driver told NBC Bay Area he is worried too many vehicles on the road will bring more accidents.
“The danger of driving while looking for passengers, while texting on your phone to make the pick-ups while being distracted, it’s a very dangerous job.”