Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 29 May 2020

Uber adds new app features and spends $50m on safety gear amid pandemic concerns

The ride-hailing giant has launched a slew of new features that verify safety measures have been taken by drivers and customers

Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said the company is proceeding with caution and safety as lockdown restricitions are relaxed. Reuters
Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said the company is proceeding with caution and safety as lockdown restricitions are relaxed. Reuters

Uber will spend $50 million (Dh183.5m) on safety supplies, such as masks and sanitisers – which it will provide to its drivers – and the company is adding new features to its app, chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said.

“Access to cleaning materials and protective equipment is critical … as of this week, we have secured more than 23 million masks for drivers and delivery people around the world,” Mr Khosrowshahi told journalists during a Zoom call on Wednesday.

"Keeping everyone safe means that everyone must take proper precautions, not only to protect yourselves, but to protect your driver and the next person who may be getting into the car after," he added.

The ride-hailing giant is adding new app features that allow customers to check if drivers are wearing face masks before starting trips.

The San Francisco-based company’s core business has been hit hard due to the coronavirus pandemic as stay-at-home orders meant people cut down their travel. Last week the company said it will lay off 3,700 full-time employees, or about 14 per cent of its workforce. The company said for the month of April its ride-hailing business is down 80 per cent year-on-year..

“Now, as cities begin to reopen and people start moving again, Uber is proceeding with caution … it’s important to us that you know what to expect when you take that second first trip,” Mr Khosrowshahi said.

Under new measures, before a driver or a delivery person can go online, they will be asked to confirm - through a new Go Online checklist - that they have taken certain safety actions and are wearing a mask.

The new technology will verify if the driver is wearing a mask by asking them to take a selfie. After the driver is verified, the company will inform the rider via an in-app message.

Starting Monday, drivers who are not wearing a mask will not be able to go online.

“We will maintain this policy through the end of June, and then reassess based on local public health needs,” Mr Khosrowshahi said.

The company has also built a similar checklist for customers.

Before every trip, customers must confirm they have taken precautions like wearing a mask and sanitising their hands. Riders must also agree to sit in the back seat and open windows for ventilation.

“Self-certification is good but sometimes verification is really important,” Sachin Kansal, Uber’s senior director of product management, said on the call.

“It is one thing for us to issue guidelines and requirements, but sometimes we have to enforce those requirements.”

Last month, the company, which is still not profitable, withdrew its financial forecast for 2020 and said it would write down about $2 billion in investments due to the coronavirus pandemic.

epa08408243 A driver of the Uber company picks up a customer in his vehicle equipped with an acrylic glass protective screen in Lausanne, Switzerland, 07 May 2020, amid the ongoing pandemic of the COVID-19 disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. EPA/JEAN-CHRISTOPHE BOTT
An Uber driver picks up a customer in his vehicle equipped with an acrylic glass protective screen in Lausanne, amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. EPA

Uber lost $2.9bn in the first quarter as its overseas investments were hammered by the contagion. Mr Khosrowshahi said he will forgo his salary for the remainder of this year.

The company, which went public on the Nasdaq a year ago, said it is also evaluating other costs as it looks to drive down operating expenses.

Updated: May 18, 2020 03:48 PM

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