An Uber driver is facing major consequences after kicking a lesbian couple out of his vehicle for giving each other a kiss.
The New York driver’s access from the Uber app was removed, and his taxi license was suspended by the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission pending further investigation.
The couple, 26-year-old Alex Iovine and 24-year-old Emma Pichl, were picked up last weekend in Brooklyn after attending a beach birthday party. The driver was supposed to take them to Manhattan where they were going to meet up with other friends.
However, their ride was cut short after they shared a brief moment of affection.
"We were sitting in the two window seats with the middle seat between us," Iovine told CNBC. "At one point we turned to each other and pecked on the lips.”
At that moment, driver Ahmad El Boutari pulled his car over and asked the women to get out. The couple laughed initially, assuming it was a joke. El Boutari’s request proved to be a serious one when he got out of his own vehicle, opened the rear passenger door, and instructed the two women to get out.
The couple began filming El Boutari on their phones. The footage from the shocking incident has since gone viral.
Lesbian couple claim Uber driver kicked them out of car over a kiss pic.twitter.com/xKCTKe0QmP— Evening Standard (@EveningStandard) June 13, 2018
After the couple asked why they were being kicked out, El Boutari replied, “It's illegal. You can't do this in the car. It's disrespectful. You aren't allowed to do this.”
When the two women realized it was their kiss he had taken umbrage with, they continued inquiring why it was prohibited.
"It's not illegal to kiss in New York," Iovine told reporters. "We leaned in for a peck."
Based on the company’s community standards, upon entering an Uber vehicle riders agree to not “touch or flirt with other people in the car.” The policy also states, “As a reminder, Uber has a no-sex rule. That’s no sexual conduct between drivers and riders, no matter what.”
However, Iovine insisted that what occurred during her ride with Pichl was nowhere near sex.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I'm respectful and I would never engage in sexual conduct in public," Iovine said. “I think it would be disrespectful to engage in that in someone's Uber, but that is nothing close to what happened here."
Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi condemned the driver’s behavior in an interview with the New York Post. He noted that drivers who treat passengers like El Boutari did “don’t belong on Uber.”
"This is an open society, and Uber is a platform that is available to anybody regardless of your background, your orientation, and that is sacred to us. It's an unfortunate circumstance, and we will do everything we can for that not to repeat," he said.
Although the company has removed this particular driver, Iovine said she wants them to take another look at their policies to prevent future incidents of this nature.
“My hope is Uber does something to change their policy or prevent this from happening," Iovine said. "I would never want to violate the driver's rights, but protect the riders too and update the policy."
Alas, any policy changes that do come from this may be too little, too late as Iovine and Pichl said they have deleted the app and will not go back to using the service. Others may follow suit upon learning of the couple’s experience.
This type of negative attention is definitely the last thing Uber needed as it has been embroiled in trouble in recent years, prompting its previous CEO Travis Kalanick to step down and Khosrowshahi to come in and turn things around.
So far, it appears that change has yet to come.