By Tina Bellon
(Reuters) - Ride-hailing firm Uber Technologies Inc said it received over 3,000 reports of sexual assault related to its 1.3 billion rides in the United States last year, in a report aimed at ensuring drivers and the public it was serious about safety.
The figure represents a 16% fall in the rate of incidents from the previous year in the five most serious categories of sexual assault reported, Uber said on Thursday in its first biennial U.S. Safety Report https://www.uber-assets.com/image/upload/v1575580686/Documents/Safety/UberUSSafetyReport_201718_FullReport.pdf.
The firm also said reports of assaults on passengers overlooked risks for drivers as riders accounted for roughly half of the accused.
The 84-page report comes almost two weeks after Uber said it would appeal the loss of its license to carry passengers in London over a "pattern of failures" on safety and security.
Uber, which in the past has faced criticism over safety on its platform and has been repeatedly hit with lawsuits over driver misconduct, last year committed to releasing a safety report in a sign of a cultural turnaround under its new CEO.
The firm, which operates in 70 countries, said the report showed its commitment to transparency to improve accountability and safety industry-wide. It said it would use what it learned producing the report for its "next steps" in other places.
"I suspect many people will be surprised at how rare these incidents are; others will understandably think they're still too common. Some people will appreciate how much we've done on safety; others will say we have more work to do. They will all be right," tweeted Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi.
In the report, Uber said 99.9% of its 2.3 billion U.S. trips in 2017 and 2018 ended without safety incidents.
It said it received 235 reports of "non-consensual sexual penetration" last year and 280 of "attempted non-consensual sexual penetration" - nearly all filed by women. The remaining assault reports included incidents of unwanted kissing or touching of body parts.
It also detailed 10 fatal physical assaults in 2017 and nine in 2018 - eight victims were riders, seven were drivers using Uber's app, and four were third parties such as bystanders.
At an event on Wednesday, Khosrowshahi said he prioritized improving Uber's culture and safety when assuming his role in 2017. At the time, Uber was dealing with regulatory fallout and public backlash over its business practices, forcing former CEO and founder Travis Kalanick to step down.
"We had to change the culture internally and we simply got to do the right thing," Khosrowshahi said, adding that Uber was not hiding anything by publishing internal information.
Rival Lyft Inc in a statement said it was committed to releasing its own safety report and sharing information on unsafe drivers. It did not state a release date for its report.
Uber said it puts drivers through a vigorous background check before accepting them onto its platform. In its report, it said one million drivers failed to pass the screening test in 2017 and 2018 and more than 40,000 were removed from the app after extra screening layers.
Regulators have long said Uber's screening process was insufficient and inferior to those in place for taxi drivers, with several U.S. cities attempting to compel Uber to mandate fingerprinting of its drivers.
New York City is currently the only U.S. city where drivers have to provide fingerprints and undergo the same licensing requirements as regular taxi drivers.
The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission in response to Uber's safety report on Thursday said there was no substitute for background checks based on fingerprinting.
"They are the best way to prevent against drivers with criminal records," its Acting Commissioner Bill Heinzen said in a statement.
An Uber spokeswoman on Thursday said the firm's screening process was robust and rigorous, and was more reliable than the database for fingerprints where she said not all crimes are updated promptly.
Uber's share price was down 1.57% in after-hours trade at $28.20.
(Reporting by Tina Bellon; Additional reporting by Neha Malara; Writing by Peter Henderson and Ismail Shakil; Editing by Chris Reese and Christopher Cushing)