Amid scrutiny, Uber vows bigger focus on safety
Uber promises to focus on rider safety amid increasing concerns that its drivers are not adequately screened for past criminal convictions.
In a blog post Wednesday, Uber’s head of global safety company security chief Philip Cardenas defended the company’s safety record but also wrote that “as we look to 2015, we will build new safety programs and intensify others.”
The taxi alternative, valued at $40 billion, lets passengers summon cars through an app in more than 250 cities around the world. It faces multiples legal and regulatory challenges as it expands in the United States and abroad.
Highlights from Uber’s blg:
“Putting safety first for each of the one million trips we are doing every day means setting strict safety standards, then working hard to improve them every day. We are reminded by the recent tragic event in India that best-in-class safety must be a constant quest. We owe it to all our riders, driver partners and communities around the world to examine what we can do better and then do everything we can to make more progress on safety. Having recently joined Uber to lead Global Safety after building a first-of-its-kind safety program at Airbnb and before that serving in the U.S. military, it’s a mission I am passionate about.
“Uber is committed to developing new technology tools that improve safety, strengthen and increase the number of cities and countries where background checks are conducted and improve communication with local officials and law enforcement.
“To that end, in November, Uber’s safety team began a global review to assess the areas where greater investment is required. As we look to 2015, we will build new safety programs and intensify others. The review is still underway, but here is our current roadmap:
“Technology: Our Safety Product Team is developing more ways to put technology to work to ensure the safety of riders and drivers in key areas. We are initiating research & development on biometrics and voice verification to build custom tools for enhanced driver screening. We are also investing in ways to provide riders the instant ability to communicate with us and their loved ones in the event of an emergency, building on top of our ShareMyETA feature.
“Background Checks: In many places outside the U.S., the infrastructure and complexity of background checks vary significantly. This is of deep concern to us. We are finding solutions in many places that range from polygraph exams that fill gaps in available data to adding our own processes on top of existing screening for commercial licenses – which is what we are undertaking in India. We are exploring new ways to screen drivers globally, using scientific analysis and technology to find solutions.
“Service and Support: Our 2-way feedback system has introduced unprecedented transparency to transportation. But as our rapid growth continues, our customer service must evolve to keep pace. We are thrilled to announce that Tim Collins is joining Uber to lead Global Support. Prior to joining Uber, Tim spent 15 years at Amazon leading operations and customer support teams. Most recently, Tim led Amazon’s Europe Operations with over 18,000 employees, so look for more updates soon in this important area. We are also building Safety Incident Response teams around the world with the goal of providing 24/7, immediate support in the event of a safety incident.
“Advisory and Training Partnerships: We will be working with partners that have deep expertise in issues like women’s safety, conflict resolution, and road safety and incorporate their counsel into our global safety roadmap. We are already working with RAINN to train various members of our safety and support teams.”
Last week, prosecutors in California, where Uber is based, filed a lawsuit alleging that the company exaggerates how comprehensive its driver background checks are. They do not, for example, require that drivers be fingerprinted — unlike drivers of regulated taxis in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The Wednesday blog post did not mention the California lawsuit, though it did reference a case in India in which a driver was accused of raping a passenger.
The blog post came the same day that an Uber driver in Massachusetts was arraigned on charges including rape and kidnapping after being accused of sexually assaulting a woman who had summoned the ride-sharing service.
In the post, the recently hired head of global safety at Uber offered few details of upcoming changes. The initiatives will include the creation of teams that can rapidly respond to safety-related reports and new ways to screen would-be drivers.
“We are finding solutions in many places that range from polygraph exams that fill gaps in available data to adding our own processes on top of existing screening for commercial licenses,” wrote Canderas. “We are exploring new ways to screen drivers globally, using scientific analysis and technology to find solutions.”
A spokesman for San Francisco County District Attorney George Gascon said due to its lawsuit, the office can’t comment on the specific proposals. “Obviously we encourage any changes that actually make rides safer,” said spokesman Alex Bastian.
Uber’s opponents in the taxi cab industry, who worry that the increasingly popular app is siphoning away their business, were not impressed.
Calling Uber’s proposals “a decoy to quell the intense criticism the company is generating worldwide,” a spokesman for the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association challenged the company to “follow the rule of law tomorrow and truly begin moving toward safe operations.”