The San Francisco District Attorney's Office has launched a citywide campaign to encourage users of ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft to take extra safety precautions.
District Attorney George Gascon announced the campaign Tuesday afternoon, alongside police Cmdr. Greg McEachern and an Uber spokesman.
"Mostly the services are safe," Gascon said. "But we also know that when things go wrong, they can go wrong very quickly. We know there have been individuals locally that have manipulated the services to hurt others and for their own purposes. That is why it is important that we be vigilant, that we all work together and that we help one another," he said.
In July, San Francisco police arrested a former Lyft driver dubbed as the "Rideshare Rapist."
Orlando Vilchez Lazo, 37, is accused of assaulting four women after pretending to be their ride-hailing driver. The crimes allegedly occurred in downtown San Francisco in 2013 and this year.
The new "Rideshare with Care" campaign announced Tuesday is encouraging riders to take three steps when using ride-hailing services to ensure their safety.
Before stepping into a ride-hailing car, Gascon said, riders should use the mobile app to verify the vehicle's license plate number, color, make and model. Riders should also confirm that the driver's name and photo match what's on the app.
Finally, riders are encouraged to share their location and destination with a partner, friend or family member.
"I applaud the D.A., we all do, for launching this campaign," said Uber spokesman Andrew Hasbun. "We are putting safety at the heart of everything that we do."
In recent months, Uber has rolled out new safety features for riders, as well as drivers, Hasbun said.
Both riders and drivers now have emergency buttons via their mobile app, which, when pushed, automatically makes a 911 phone call.
In addition, riders can now automatically share their locations and information about their driver with their chosen contacts, using a feature called "trusted contacts."
"These are all features that are designed to put safety in the palm of your hands," he said, adding that the features only work once the passenger is in the designated ride-hailing vehicle.
McEachern said other tips ride-hailing users can follow, is to try to travel in groups when possible and, if calling a ride-hailing service car for a friend, to make sure that the friend gets to their destination using the mobile app.
In an email, Lyft said, "We applaud the District Attorney's effort to educate the rideshare community about simple steps everyone can take to stay safe."
The statement said, "Lyft provides in-app photos of the driver and vehicle, real-time ride tracking, digital receipts, two-way rating systems, and professionally administered background checks. We also have a Trust and Safety Team available 24/7 for emergencies and a dedicated Critical Response Line to reach specially trained experts on the phone."
Lyft also said that it uses a device called Amp, which sits on the driver's dashboard and illuminates in a color that corresponds to what the passenger sees on their mobile app.
The District Attorney's Office estimates that about 170,000 ride-hailing trips are taken during a typical weekday in San Francisco.
In addition to the safety features provided by Lyft and Uber, prosecutors recommend that in the event of a crime during a ride-hailing service trip, that users, or drivers, call 911 immediately. Riders should also follow up with the company the driver works for, as well as their local police.