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Uber to pilot in-app 911 service in Denver, beef up background checks

Posted at 7:46 AM, Apr 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-12 14:04:31-04

DENVER – The ridesharing service Uber announced Thursday it is unveiling a pilot program in Denver aimed at rider safety.

The company is partnering with RapidSOS on the feature, which will connect a user with local emergency services with the tap of a button. The service also will send the user’s location, a description of the vehicle and Uber trip details to the 911 dispatcher.

"We take the responsibility of keeping our users safe very seriously. We think that applying technology to solve safety problems is the right thing to do for Uber," said Sachin Kansal, Uber's Safety Products Manager. "We're listening to our riders as well as our drivers and they’re asking to be able to get in touch with emergency services as fast as possible."

The pilot program is part of a slew of new safety-oriented features and changes Uber is rolling out in the coming months.

"We want to make it easy for them to do it it’s just really their choice they should just do whatever’s quickest and whatever gives them the peace of mind," Kansal said.

Denver Uber riders said they like the idea of the new safety features. Some said they have had bad experiences in the past. 

"Definitely the driver when you’re alone as a girl I mean sometimes they try to hit on you and they say things that don’t make you feel uncomfortable," said Bren Lopez. "I Definitely think that make me feel more safe."

However, she wants to see how it works.

"It would be nice to see it in action first to see if it actually works and then people will feel more comfortable," she said. 

Katie Futo has also had some bad rides. She likes the idea of the App.

"I mean there's a couple of times where you don’t feel as safe," Futo said. "I do feel like it’s going to help just knowing the fact that it’s there just in case you feel really unsafe and you can just know that you can do something to make yourself feel safer." 

Meanwhile, Jeremy Hall said the new features won't change how frequently he uses Uber but he supports the change. 

"I can foresee situations where if I was in a situation where I didn’t feel safe, I want something like that at my disposal," Hall said.

The changes come after numerous reports of sexual harassment and even rape by drivers. The safety of the ridesharing service has also come into question in the past. The company was criticized for its background checking process and even fined for allowing people with criminal records to become drivers.

Other changes include:

  • Beefing up the driver background check process by conducting annual checks on all drivers and using technology that monitors drivers’ records for new offenses.
  • Adding a new safety section to the Uber App so that riders can learn about key safety information, including tips built in partnership with law enforcement, driver screening processes, insurance protections and community guidelines.
  • Adding a trusted contacts section to the Uber App so that riders can chose five people the company will notify when they are using the ridesharing service. The contacts will be able to follow the riders on their trip and make sure they reach their final destination safely. The App will be customizable so that users can only share those details when they are riding at night, for instance.
  • Working with the National Emergency Number Association so that 911 calls from the App are immediately directed to the correct call center, speeding up response time. 

Uber also announced the addition of former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson as chair of the company’s Safety Advisory Board. 

The announcement comes less than a week after Uber announced a new, kid friendly version of the service.