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Ride-share ‘nightmare?’ Lawsuit says car leased from Uber was unsafe ‘lemon’

People make their way into the building that houses the headquarters of Uber, Wednesday, June 21, 2017, in San Francisco. (AP File Photo/Eric Risberg)

Kimberly Crawl, a single mom from the South Side, thought she’d done all her research and made the right move for herself and her 10-year-old daughter when she leased a 2015 Chevy Malibu with just 15 miles on it from Uber.

As a driver for the ride-sharing company, Crawl says she was told to expect she’d make more than enough money to make the lease payments on the new car. And the flexible schedule of an Uber driver, she hoped, would allow freedom to get her daughter from school.

“It didn’t turn out that way,” says Crawl, 37. “Nightmare is an understatement.”

In a lawsuit pending in federal court here, Crawl says the car she got was “an unsafe and undrivable ‘lemon.’” The loaner car she got in place of the Malibu couldn’t be used to give rides using the Uber app, leaving Crawl “unable to make her loan payments,” she alleges.

Kimberly Crawl. Provided photo.
Kimberly Crawl. Provided photo.

Her lawyer, James Vlahakis of Lombard, says Crawl may be among thousands of drivers who got stuck with lemons and were victims of “deceptive statements and misrepresentations” by Uber and its former CEO, Travis Kalanick.

“Uber and Kalanick inflated driver earnings to entice persons to sign up to drive with Uber and to lease vehicles with Uber,” Vlahakis says.

Crawl and the other plaintiff in the case, Charlene Marsh, began driving with Uber through its auto-leasing business, called Xchange Leasing.

The lawyer representing Uber and Xchange Leasing in the case, Gregory Thomas Fouts of Chicago, declined to comment. Fouts has argued that the suit must be dismissed because the dispute should go to arbitration, rather than being decided in the courts, according to filings in U.S. District Court here.

The attorney for Kalanick did not return calls seeking comment. Kalanick resigned in June as chief executive of Uber Technologies, after widespread complaints of sexual harassment at the San Francisco-based company.

In Chicago, as in other cities around the world, Uber has grown tremendously, all but wiping out the more stringently regulated cab industry. For years now, many efforts to tighten the rules on Uber and other ride-sharing companies have faced opposition from Mayor Rahm Emanuel — whose brother Ari is an investor in Uber.

Uber executives have responded to the criticism by saying that ride sharing is great for Chicago — and especially for minority communities that taxis have underserved for decades.

But Vlahakis says Uber devised its auto-leasing program to “push predatory lending terms on minority drivers who did not have their own vehicles.”

“The Xchange Leasing program was intended to provide vehicles to drivers with low credit scores and exploit drivers with low credit scores,” according to the complaint filed in December.

Down payments and lease payments for cars obtained through Xchange Leasing were much higher than advertised, the suit alleges.

Uber shut down Xchange Leasing last year after it was losing 18 times more money per car than was believed, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The suit in federal court here also cites a January 2017 settlement between Uber and the Federal Trade Commission. Uber agreed to pay $20 million to settle FTC charges that it “misled prospective drivers with exaggerated earning claims.” Less than 10 percent of drivers in San Francisco and New York “earned the yearly income Uber touted,” the FTC said.

In an emailed statement Friday, Uber spokeswoman Molly Spaeth said, “We’ve made many improvements to the driver experience over the past year and will continue to focus on building an Uber product that supports our driver-partners’ goals to earn money on their own schedule.”

Crawl says she was told she would make $6,000 a month but could barely feed herself and her daughter because she took home only about $10 an hour after deducting for gas and mileage.

She says she would tell prospective Uber drivers, “Beware. Run. You can make more money at McDonald’s.”

It could have been worse. Crawl says she nearly got into an accident driving an Uber passenger on the Kennedy Expressway because her leased lemon refused go faster than 20 miles per hour at the time.

“I want people to know exactly what type of company it is,” Crawl says. “When I needed them, they weren’t there. They don’t stand behind what they promised.”