Rideshare companies face King County officials about passenger safety

SEATTLE — A handful of violent attacks on passengers led members of a King County Council committee on Monday to ask questions about background checks for Uber and Lyft drivers.

Managers from both rideshare companies testified and said all drivers go through continuous checks done by an outside company.

County officials say they then double-check the screenings before issuing licenses, and that out of thousands of applications in a year, they only have to issue a couple dozen denials.

"The system is doing a really good job of vetting the drivers," said King County For-Hire Services Manager Sean Bouffiou.

He's most concerned about people who pose as Uber or Lyft drivers and show up at a crowded pickup spot with a company sticker on their car, taking advantage of passenger confusion.

"Because they're personal vehicles, they all just sort of look the same," Bouffiou said.

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County inspectors recently stepped up inspections in the field, checking for violations on weekend nights while posing as passengers.

Bouffiou urges people to use the safety features in the companies' apps, which include things like a panic button in the Uber app to call 911 during a trip.

Just before managers from both companies met with county officials on Monday, two rideshare drivers were arraigned in court.

Lyft driver Mohammed Hussein was arraigned on one count of indecent liberties, accused of sexually assaulting a woman he picked up on Capitol Hill, after she fell asleep in his car. His bail was set at $10,000.

Another rideshare driver, Ghassan Shakir, was also arraigned Monday. The 35-year-old pleaded not guilty to charges he handcuffed a woman to his car and sexually assaulted her while working as a Lyft driver.

There are also allegations that Shakir may have raped several women he picked up in Bellevue and SeaTac.  His bail was set at $750,000.

And according to police, Israel Ramos-Islas posed as a rideshare driver and sexually assaulted a woman he picked up outside a Ballard bar.

Both Uber and Lyft also say users should take caution to make sure they're getting in the right car driven by the right person, double checking the driver's name and photo, the license plate and type of vehicle.