Kenita Jalivay sat in her car Monday afternoon, reliving the horrifying events that she’d witnessed earlier that day from the driver’s seat.
She’d barely slept. She was crying. “I guess this is what PTSD looks like,” she said, her voice shaking.
Jalivay, 42, a writer and aspiring filmmaker from West Philadelphia, drives part-time for Lyft.
She had just dropped off a passenger around 12:45 a.m. in South Philly, and was on her way to pick up another when a fleet of cop cars squealed past her near 26th and Tasker, boxing her in.
“They’re in the front, they’re behind me, they’re coming from the sides,” she recalled.
Jalivay panicked, unsure of what was going on. And then she saw what the police were rushing to. Lying in the street just feet from her car was a boy she guessed to be 14 or 15 years old. He had been shot. He wasn’t moving.
Was he dead? Dying?
“My heart was crashing in my ears, I was so scared,” she said. “I’d never seen anything like that.”
Jalivay started filming with the phone she usually keeps on her dashboard for directions.
“Something just said: ‘Bear witness.’”
She heard screams, one so primal she thought it must be the mother of the boy on the ground. Another woman appeared. “I’m the grandmother!” she cried. “Where’s my grandson? I’m the grandmother.”
“The family was screeching,” Jalivay said, “almost as if their voice could pull him back from the grave. It was hellish. It was just hellish.”
She’d later learn that the young man was 16 years old and survived. His cousin, also shot, is paralyzed.
All Jalivay wanted was to get out of there. But she couldn’t.
Cops rushed to the boy’s side and lifted him off the ground and into the back of a squad car next to hers. Her headlights illuminated his limp, blood-soaked arm as they put him in the back seat.
“Oh my God,” she can be heard saying in the nearly nine-minute video, over and over.
“You hear all the time that these kids are out here shooting but you disconnect, because you go home to a comfortable house, you don’t think about the really savageness of the reality they have to face,” she said. “And I saw that last night.…”
Police cordoned off the area with yellow tape and told her to pull her car onto the sidewalk so they could inspect it for blood spatter, bullet holes, and shattered glass. They thought she had witnessed the shooting.
“I’m a Lyft driver,” she can be heard telling police. “I just got caught in the middle of this.”
Before she was allowed to leave, about a half-hour later, an officer told her she had been lucky. A minute earlier, the officer said, and she could have been shot, too.
After she drove off, she called her mother in Illinois, hysterical. Then she emailed Lyft.
She’d had to cancel her next passenger’s pickup, and she wanted to make sure they knew why. She wasn’t sure what to expect in return. As a contract worker, she knows she’s on her own. She’s been vocal about the company’s problems, including owing more to its female passengers. But she thought they’d at least acknowledge that one of their drivers, proud to drive where others might not want to in order to better serve those who serve us — the hospital workers, the cleaning people, the bartenders, the waitresses — had driven into trauma on the job.
What she got was a message that read as though it was written by a bot:
“At this time I have issued an extra US $5.00 to your earnings,” the email informed. “You’ll see this as ‘bonuses’ in your driver history in the next few business days.”
As #sorrynotsorry as that response was, it was more than she’d gotten in the past when reporting sexist or racist behavior by riders – which was no response at all.
When she asked for a supervisor, she got an automated response noting that her message had been received.
Yeah, the message was received. By Jalivay, not by Lyft. And loud and clear. It said the multibillion-dollar ride-share company doesn’t care that much about its drivers.
I reached out to a company spokesperson, who forwarded my inquiry to a second spokesperson.
In the meantime, I called Harry Campbell, author of The Rideshare Guide, named after his popular blog and podcast about working in the industry.
The company’s response didn’t surprise him; even with its army of people paid to communicate, Lyft falls flat when it comes to communicating with its drivers. The email, he said, could have very well come from an automated response system that misinterpreted the details. Or it could have been sent by an outsourced call center, its details lost in translation.
Lyft has a 24/7 critical response line, he told me, but many drivers don’t even know it exists. Jalivay didn’t.
Bottom line: Legally Lyft has no obligation to Jalivay. But at a minimum, Lyft should at least acknowledge what her job exposed her to.
While I was talking to Campbell, Jalivay got a call from someone at Lyft, responding to my calls on her behalf.
A third spokesperson, I’m assuming. He said Lyft was very, very, very sorry – using so many verys, Jalivay said, that they lost their meaning.
She wasn’t having it.
Does Lyft care? she asked him. He insisted they did, but left it up to her to suggest a way they might show it.
Later, I got an emailed statement from Lyft. The company acknowledged that the situation was frightening and disturbing. It said that drivers, in addition to calling 911, should try the company’s elusive 24/7 response line, accessible by leaving their numbers with Lyft’s help center and waiting for a call back. And the email added that the incident did not happen on Lyft’s “platform,” which is also odd, since Jalivay was driving to a pickup when she got trapped. Can’t get any more on-platform than that.
Jalivay knows she’ll probably have to get behind the wheel again, but what she’d really like to do is use that meager five bucks toward a gallon and a half of gas, and get out of town.