OAKLAND, California -- This week, ABC has asked many questions about rideshare safety, but what about the cars themselves? How do you know if that personal car picking you up is safe to ride in? An Oakland mother and her baby had a scary experience on Interstate 880 that raised questions about mechanical safety standards.
This rideshare user's story will make you wonder if anybody's checking the condition of rideshare cars. They are all personal cars, and Uber and Lyft both accept cars up to 15 years old for use. They do require the cars to look nice and undergo inspections. However, the inspections are far less stringent than those for taxicabs. Here's a firsthand look at what really gets checked out before a car picks you up.
Jennifer Collins holds her baby close, still shaken by their harrowing ordeal. A mother and baby, left out in the rain, on the side of the freeway by a broken-down Lyft. She describes how she and her son reacted: "He's screaming... and I'm stuck, I'm stuck."
It began when Collins and little JJ took a Lyft from Oakland, sharing the ride with a Seattle man headed to the Oakland airport.
"Initially it was an average Lyft ride," she said.
But as they drove down the Nimitz, the Lyft car sputtered and died on the side of the road. What the driver did next was stunning.
"He was like you guys have to find your own way home. Like your own ride," Collins said. "I was like, are you kidding me right now?"
He wasn't. The driver ordered all of them out of the car right there on the freeway. So Collins, the baby and the Seattle man walked together down the freeway to the 98th Avenue offramp and to hail another Lyft.
"It was rainy, it was windy, it was freezing. Cars were buzzing by me," Collins said. "I was getting soaked, my son screaming, like I just feel helpless."
But what was worse she says, was Lyft's response. The rideshare company sent her an email saying only, "You will never be paired with this driver again." Then Lyft denied her a refund saying, "We would never want to monetize your safety."
"That's your response to this whole thing? I was appalled, literally appalled," described Collins.
Lyft would not discuss the case with us, saying, "The safety of the Lyft community is our top priority, and we take these reports very seriously. We deactivated the vehicle... and have since followed up with the passenger."
Lyft would not say whether the driver is still working for the company.
"There's questions. What do they actually check when there's car checks?" asked Collins. "Are these cars safe?"
Uber and Lyft do require car inspections, but only the 19-point minimum required by the state. Inspections cover items like horn and brakes, but not engine parts like belts and hoses. By comparison, San Francisco taxicabs must pass a detailed inspection of nearly 100 points.
Jason Levine of the Center for Auto Safety says rideshares should get the same scrutiny as taxicabs.
"It's certainly a lower level of required inspection for Uber and Lyft than it is for your standard commercial taxi," he said. "Maybe they've never been driven commercially until three weeks ago when somebody decided to sign up for the app."
Can this 19-point inspection assure your safety?
Technician Jon Haugen says the rideshare checklist has only basic categories, not specific tests like taxis get.
"It says here foot brakes. What does that mean? It could be more inclusive on what has to be done," Jon said, looking at the list.
However, Jon goes the extra mile - ensuring it's all solid.
"But who knows what the next guy will do."
But a safety check, he says, doesn't mean the car is reliable.
"These are basic safety points,'' he said. "Safety tests are like steering, brakes, do the doors and windows open if you need to get out....Whether the car konks out, we can't really tell that" from the safety inspection, Haugen said.
This was news to Jennifer Collins.
"Now that's definitely something I think about,'' she said. "I don't think most people think, what if the car breaks down?" she said.
Interestingly, some states like Georgia don't require any inspections at all for Uber and Lyft, and other cities like Minneapolis make them pass the same rigorous tests as taxicabs. Lyft says that drivers have an incentive to maintain their cars well since they use them to drive their own families. Uber says the company encourages drivers to maintain cars and look for recalls.
Lyft nightmare: Oakland mother and baby made to walk down Interstate 880 in the rain after rideshare breakdown