By Tim McNicholas

CHICAGO (CBS)Rideshare drivers are calling on Uber and Lyft to help protect them from crime after seven drivers were carjacked on the Near North and Near Northwest sides going back to late December.

As CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas reported, the rideshare drivers’ suggestions range from working closer with police to making sure passengers verify their identity.

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“I was parked pretty much at this spot,” said Allen Suchkou.

The spot was Le Moyne and Wood streets in Wicker Park. It was there where Suchkou said he started his final ride as a Lyft driver.

It was a short one.

“As soon as I put it in drive, one of them started yelling at me,” Suchkou said. “He was like, ‘Put it in park!’”

Suchkou said one of the two passengers put a gun to his head. They stole his phone and wallet before yanking him out and driving off with his Audi around 4 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 17.

“I was so disoriented. I was in terror. I was so shocked,” he said. “I felt like I’m in a parallel universe; like I’m asleep or something. I didn’t think it was real.”

Police said six other rideshare drivers were carjacked just in past few weeks in the Wicker Park and Bucktown areas.

Drivers are calling on Uber and Lyft to step up their security. So is Bryant Greening, an attorney with the Chicago-based firm Legal Rideshare.

An interactive map at this link shows the change in the number of carjackings in Chicago neighborhoods between 2019 and 2020.

“Safety and rideshare is often focused on the passenger,” Greening said. “It also needs to incorporate the driver.”

Some drivers also feel that Lyft or Uber requiring a photo on file for riders would make people think twice if they were going to commit a crime. Greening points out that drivers are required to upload a photo to their account, but passengers don’t need to do that.

On his own account, McNicholas found he was able to order a ride without even verifying his email.

“Requiring a photo would allow (drivers) to check to make sure that they’re picking up the right person; ensuring that phone numbers are linked to specific people, credit cards are linked to specific people,” Greening said. “By not having certain basic requirements, it gives criminals the opportunity to take advantage of the system.”

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Greening also said due to passenger privacy concerns, Uber and Lyft are sometimes reluctant to give up information to drivers, lawyers, or even police.

Suchkou said Chicago Police officers told him the same thing when he suggested they work with Lyft to see if they have any information to track down the suspects.

“It’s only getting worse, because nothing is being done about it,” he said.

Lyft expressed their concern to Suchkou a sent him an email reminding him that he could rent a car through Lyft at a weekly rate to continue driving for them.

“You know, why don’t I go out there and try to get murdered two nights in a row?” Suchkou said. “That’s how I thought about it.”

He turned them down on that, and rented a car on his own to get around.

He’s now looking for a new job.

Lyft sent us an email saying they have been in touch with CPD and they’re ready to assist however they can:

“Safety is fundamental to Lyft, and this type of behavior is not tolerated on the Lyft platform. We have removed the rider from the Lyft community, reached out to the driver to offer support and stand ready to assist law enforcement with any investigation.

“We’re closely reviewing these incidents and looking for additional ways we can help drivers, including permanently banning the accounts of users who engage in this type of behavior, preemptively taking action against users that we determine may be likely to do so in the future, and continuing to develop safety features to protect our community.”

Lyft also said it had deactivated the carjacker’s account, and the driver will not be responsible for the insurance deductible. But Lyft said given the variation of state regulations with regard to insurance requirements and their third-party insurance carriers, individual claims are reviewed case-by-case.

Lyft also said it urges all riders to upload photos of themselves to their Lyft accounts.

In November, Lyft also announced it had partnered with ADT for an Emergency Help system for both riders and drivers.

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Tim McNicholas