Murders, robberies of drivers in Brazil force Uber to rethink cash strategy

Tue Feb 14, 2017 1:30am EST
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By Stephen Eisenhammer and Brad Haynes

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - On a Thursday night last September, Uber driver Osvaldo Luis Modolo Filho accepted a ride request from a teenage couple on the eastern edge of Sao Paulo, to be paid in cash.

A few blocks from their destination, the passengers – who hailed the ride on the Uber app with a false name – drew two blue-handled kitchen knives. They repeatedly stabbed the 52-year-old driver and drove away with his black SUV as he lay bleeding in the road. Two of his fatal wounds were so deep police would first mistake them for bullet holes.

Police later found the car, arrested the couple and accused them of murder in the service of car theft. They are awaiting sentencing and lawyers for both have vowed to appeal.

Uber said Modolo Filho was its first driver to be murdered in Brazil. He would not be the last. Police have confirmed six murders since his death, with local press reporting more than a dozen.

A Reuters analysis of crime data obtained by public information request from Sao Paulo’s state security secretariat showed a spike in robberies involving Uber drivers since July, when the company started accepting cash payments in the city, raising questions inside the company as to why it did not act faster to address the problem.

Traditionally, Uber has charged rides to credit cards registered by users, offering an easy way to verify passengers and track them down if needed. It changed that policy across Brazil last year, allowing customers to pay with cash to turbo-charge growth in a crucial new market.

Demand took off, but so did crime. In Sao Paulo, robberies involving Uber drivers rose ten-fold, the data shows. Attacks rose from an average of 13 per month in the first seven months of 2016, reflecting some degree of danger even before the cash option took effect, to 141 per month in the rest of the year, the data shows. []

Assaults involving regular taxi drivers in the city rose by just a third in the same period, according to crime data obtained by a separate freedom of information request filed with same security officials, as a deep economic downturn lifted all robberies in the city about six percent.   Continued...

Uber drivers sit in their cars as they wait for passengers in Sao Paulo, Brazil, February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Nacho Doce