Ride-hailing service Uber is introducing a new safety feature which will check in if it detects any anomalies in your trip, such as an unexpected long stop or an unusual deviation.
RideCheck uses GPS data and sensors in drivers’ smartphones, to detect if something is going wrong during a journey.
When RideCheck is initiated, both the passenger and the driver will receive a notification asking if everything is okay. A message will pop up offering tools that can be used to get help.
You will be able to let Uber know through the app if everything is alright or, alternatively, you can take action using the emergency button or share your ride with a friend.
This feature can serve as a reminder that both the passengers and the drivers are being monitored. Uber hopes it will encourage people to report any incidents that may occur.
RideCheck will be phased in over the next month.
Uber has introduced several safety features to its app since it arrived in South Africa in 2014. Uber drivers and riders have faced continued intimidation, particularly from meter taxi drivers, which have included killings, vehicles being set alight, and acid attacks.
A mobile panic button can be found in Uber’s safety toolkit, which is where the safety features are bundled together. It allows passengers to connect with the ICEplus Incident Management Centre, where a consultant will assess the nature of the incident. Third-party security officials or medical emergency specialists can be sent to the scene.
In the US, Uber and Lyft have also faced multiple lawsuits over their background-checking policy and responses to assaults and sexual misconduct during rides. The companies have since also introduced additional background checks for drivers. Uber’s country manager for South Africa, Nduduzo Nyanda, said they were using tech to make travelling safer.
“This safety feature brings together many of the features we have developed over the last few years such as the safety centre, in-app emergency button, and trusted contacts. It is a great example of how tech can make travel safer than ever before and will support our efforts to continue to prevent incidents and help set the standard for safety while travelling from A to B.”
What many users of the service may not be aware of is that if you do report an incident to Uber, you may get a phone call from a member of Uber’s Safety Response Team in Cairo.
The team is based in Egypt in a “Centre of Excellence” which provides support for critical incidents that require immediate attention around the clock.
Uber’s 700-member team in Cairo services all of its clients across sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa.
Uber said it chose to base its response team in Cairo because it gave it the advantage of centralising support and offering 24/7 help. Egypt has positioned itself in the call centre industry with several multinationals locating their services in the country, including Vodafone, Orange, Dell, HSBC, SAP, and IBM.
Alon Lits, general manager of Uber for sub-Saharan Africa, said feedback from riders and drivers was they didn’t mind where the Uber agent was calling from or what their accent was, as long as their issues were addressed. He said there was initially a consideration to place the response centre in South Africa, but Cairo won out.
“From a cost perspective, it made more sense to invest [in Egypt]. That may change in the future depending on how the business grows and evolves over the next couple of years,” says Lits.
“South Africa needs to consider that they’re operating in a globally competitive world. So when policymakers are thinking about where are future jobs going to be created, they need to consider what regulation is in place to make sure global companies are choosing South Africa as a location rather than going to another country.”