The 84-page report comes almost two weeks after Uber said it would appeal the loss of its London license over a "pattern of failures" on safety and security. Drivers also at risk as riders accounted for half of those accused of assault.
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 percent 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 biennialUS Safety Report.
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.
Doing the right thing means counting, confronting, and taking action to end sexual assault. My heart is with every survivor of this all-too-pervasive crime. Our work will never be done, but we take an important step forward today. https://t.co/i8W1fpiU97 (1/3)— dara khosrowshahi (@dkhos) December 5, 2019
"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 percent of its 2.3 billion US 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 prioritised 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.
One million drivers fail screening
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 US cities attempting to compel Uber to mandate fingerprinting of its drivers.
New York City is currently the only US 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," 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 percent in after-hours trade at $28.20.
Lyft –– which has sought to position itself as a more socially responsible company –– is meanwhile facing a series of lawsuits over sexual assault or rape that allegedly occurred in vehicles affiliated with the California company.
At least 20 women filed lawsuits against Lyft in San Francisco on Wednesday, following another 14 complaints filed in September.
"The bottom line is that Lyft does not take the safety of their passengers seriously, and never has," Mike Bomberger, who is representing the 34 women, told a news conference.
He recounted the story of Caroline Miller, who he said was raped by her Lyft driver after going out to celebrate her birthday.
"As a consequence of her assault, they offered her a refund of her ride," Bomberger said.
The total number of such lawsuits is not known, but they have led Uber and Lyft to enact various measures aimed at better ensuring the safety of passengers.
A Lyft spokeswoman said the company understood that women faced "disproportionate risks" when they travelled.
"We recognise these risks, which is why we are relentless in our work to build safety into every aspect of our work," she added.
Both ridesharing firms have made it more difficult for people to impersonate drivers, tightened controls to detect convicted criminals and added a button to report a problem while driving – steps that Bomberger said are insufficient.
"Now that is a joke," he said of the panic button.
"Who can operate a smartphone when they are being sexually assaulted? It is unrealistic to expect someone being assaulted to do that and they know it," he said.
Bomberger advocates the systematic recording of rides so drivers know they are being watched, better cooperation with authorities and better driver background checks.
Rideshare companies "know what features can be added that work. They have refused to make any changes until we started filing lawsuits," Bomberger said.