A woman shared her terrifying experience with a Lyft driver who took her on a 45-minute detour away from her destination.
Writer Kelly Barnhill recounted her harrowing story on Thursday in a now-viral tweet thread that’s received over 8,500 retweets as of Friday morning. She described the realization that her driver was taking her away from her destination to a more remote location outside of Houston, Texas, after she arrived on a flight. What should have been a 40-minute cab ride, turned into an hour-and-a-half journey.
Throughout the entire experience, Barnhill wrote, she was trying to de-escalate the situation by talking about her kids and her job ― hoping that her story would humanize her and the driver would not harm her.
“The safety of our community is Lyft’s top priority,” a Lyft spokesperson said in a statement to HuffPost in response to Barnhill’s story. “The behavior described is troubling and unacceptable. Upon becoming aware of the allegations we initiated an investigation, deactivated the driver, and reached out to the passenger to express our support. We stand ready to assist law enforcement with any investigations into this incident.”
Barnhill wrote that she arrived at the Houston airport on Sunday night and decided to order a Lyft instead of taking public transportation.
She described her driver as a “youngish, handsome” man who picked her up around 7:30 p.m. Barnhill noted that she didn’t initially feel uncomfortable getting into his car, but that comfort quickly faded when the driver turned off the Lyft app, complaining of the app’s bad directions. She chose to ignore it, attributing his actions to the fact that most ride share apps do give bad directions.
At this point, Barnhill tweeted that the driver again complimented her eyes, but she pretended not to hear him.
“It was getting dark. I didn’t realize that we were headed in the opposite direction of the city. It was getting darker,” she wrote, adding that she wasn’t paying attention to where they were because she was writing an email.
When she tried to send the email, however, she realized she no longer had phone service. It was at that moment she realized she could be in real danger.
Lyft’s website advises riders to either call the company or demand to be let out of the car in situations like these. But, Barnhill wrote, she had zero service and she didn’t want to make the driver angry and escalate an already precarious situation.
Barnhill wrote that she tried to humanize herself by talking about her children and how much they need her.
“I did this to humanize myself,” she added. “I did this because I was scared out of my mind that I didn’t know where this man was taking me.”
Then she started making up stories just to fill the space. As a writer, Barnhill noted, she makes up stories all the time ― so that’s what she did. She discussed a fake job and her annoying fake co-workers. She even said that her fake boss is so controlling that he needs to know where she is at all times.
Finally, the driver said the traffic had probably subsided and “made a hard turn” to head back in the direction of her hotel.
“I have no idea where we were. All I know is that it was 8:40 by this time. I had been in the car for over an hour,” she tweeted.
When she finally arrived at her hotel, Barnhill wrote that she realized the ride that should have cost her $30 cost her $94.
“In some ways, this was a good thing: fear could now be replaced with anger. Anger is useful,” she wrote.
“Now, there are two possibilities: Either I was in the car for ninety minutes with a predator and it’s a miracle I got out of there unscathed,” Barnhill added. “OR. I was in the car for ninety minutes with a criminal knucklehead who wanted to bilk me into paying the higher fare.”
Either way, she wrote, both options are unacceptable and “atrocious.”
Barnhill wrote that only after her tweet thread gained some traction did Lyft respond to her complaints. Lyft banned the driver and refunded Barnhill her money on Thursday afternoon.
Sexual harassment and assault is a very real threat for women and trans people who choose to use ride-sharing apps like Lyft and Uber. In October, a Miami Uber driver admitted to raping a 26-year-old unconscious passenger, telling police that it was a “perk” of the job. Just a few days later, a New York Uber driver was charged with kidnapping and assaulting a female rider. In November, a Boston Uber driver was charged with raping an unconscious female passenger.
Twitter users reacted to Barnhill’s story by sharing their own accounts of sexual harassment and misconduct they experienced while driving in a ride share.
This story has been updated to include a comment from Lyft.