Uber unveiled new safety features Thursday at an event inside their headquarters full of industry insiders and journalists. The announcement comes on the heels of a scathing report in the Washington Post, claiming the company's "Special Investigations Unit" or "SIU" is trained to put the company ahead of passenger safety.
Sachin Kansal, a senior director of product management for Uber, touched on three key safety points at the event...how riders get help, making sure the right driver is behind the wheel, and getting into the right car using a pin number and ultrasound technology.
The Washington Post article was criticized Uber's "SIU." The unit handles some of the worst incidents reported by passengers. An Uber spokesperson provided a long response to the article. Which in part said, " In 2017, we created the SIU team to provide specialized customer support to riders and drivers dealing with very serious real-life situations. Employees on this team receive more targeted training based on years of guidance from experts in the field, and we believe provide a better experience to customers in their time of need.
We've continued to enhance the team by actively hiring experienced specialists from diverse backgrounds such as social services, crisis management and law enforcement, who can manage reports of more serious safety incidents and have gone through training on how to deal with difficult issues.
We have consulted with experts on this issue, and the consistent advice we have received is that it is the victim's choice to report an incident to police, not Uber's. Uber supports the customer's right to make that decision in their own time. We provide reporting parties (riders and drivers) with information to give to the police, resources to get help, like the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline.
Investigators are not fired or reprimanded in the event that they agree that a victim should go to the police.
Uber is now guaranteeing riders that when you get into this car, you will be safe.
"Because it's the right thing to do," said Sachin Kansal who heads Uber Safety Program. Thursday the company rolled out its safety tool kit.
Thursday, Uber announced a new feature that will allow riders or drivers to text 911. The feature is geared towards the rider or driver that needs help and wants to do it discreetly. The text, crafted by uber and law enforcement, includes detailed information about the ride including the destination and the make and model of the car.
During a trip, riders will now be able to make a safety report through the app. The safety report is for something that's considered a "non-emergency" issue.
Uber also made major advancements into how they identify drivers. The app uses a selfie feature to recognize the driver's face. If the face doesn't match, the driver's account cannot be unlocked.
You will also now have the option of requesting a code to make sure you have the right driver.
"And only if the pin is the right pin can the driver start the trip," added Kansal.
Juanita Wortham, a rideshare customer likes that new safety feature.
"Sometimes at late nights all cars look the same, you may hop into the wrong car thinking it's another Uber so the confirmation would definitely help on drunken Friday nights," said Wortham as she laughed.
Perhaps one of people's favorite features is that the app now alerts you when you are close to being dropped off next to the bicycle lane.
Bicyclists have been injured when the passenger was not paying attention while opening the door.