Uber Safety Chief: New Features Show Drivers and Riders 'We Have Their Back'

By Hope King and Carlo Versano

Dara Khosrowshahi marked his one-year anniversary as Uber's CEO with a cake and a huge push for safety to revive a company plagued by reports of assault and misconduct.

Taking the stage in New York to announce Uber's latest features, Khosrowshahi said on Wednesday that safety is the company's top priority.

"We want Uber to be the safest transportation platform on the planet," he said at the event, widely attended by press. "We hope to be the standard by which all other players have to stand up to on the safety front," he said.

For a company that has been besieged by reports of driver assaults and misconduct, the mission will not be easy.

To change the narrative, Uber is relying on its technology, as well as Khosrowshahi's leadership ー the CEO fronts a new ad campaign, something former chief Travis Kalanick never did.

Uber will be different this year, Khosrowshahi said Wednesday, because the entire company has shifted.

"We went out and crowd-sourced the culture of the company, to some extent, from the employees of the company," he said.

Employees were asked how they want the company to operate in the future, and what exactly they want Uber to represent, Khosrowshahi said.

"One of the most significant norms that rang out [was] to do the right thing as a company," he added.

"It's about not just growing, but growing in the right way ー growing as a company with consideration and partnership in mind, having a dialogue with cities and partners that we work with ... and for us, safety is part of doing the right thing as a company."

Leading Uber's safety efforts is the director of product management Sachin Kansal. He outlined the new measures, which launched Wednesday, and previewed the upcoming features at the New York event.

The updates focus on safety for riders, drivers, and partners that work with services like Uber Eats, providing them with tools that are more easily accessible, Kansal said Wednesday in an interview on Cheddar.

"They need to feel like we have their back," he said.

Uber drivers can now dial 911 in an emergency more easily, and share their locations with loved ones. Uber is also testing technology that would automatically share a driver's location with a 911 operator ー though that feature will reply on a particular city's digital infrastructure.

As for riders, the company is also making it easier for customers to share their trips with trusted contacts, not just strangers. Uber will also soon release a "Ride Check" feature which will use a phone's sensors and data science to detect unusual stops or changes in speed. It will then check in with the rider to ensure their safety.

"It's about us being able us to use advanced technology," Kansal said. "How do we simplify it for end users, how do we use that to detect certain situations, and then how do we respond? I see us progressing a lot on that in the future."

Uber has been working hard to change its image as a renegade start-up ahead of next year's expected IPO. Khosrowshahi has been key to that transformation, taking over after a series of missteps by Kalanick.

Earlier this year, Uber bought electric bike-sharing company Jump to give it a leg up in the burgeoning last-mile transit market. The company is now reportedly using the unit to develop its own e-scooter. Kansal said as the company expands beyond ride-hailing, it will adapt its safety features to suit new products.

"As long as you’re an Uber user, it doesn’t matter whether you're on a bike or car," Kansal said. "We want to make sure we ensure your safety. We’ll continue to build products towards that."

For full interview click here.

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