Face masks and mandatory driver selfies: how Uber rides are about to change

Beginning Monday, Uber drivers will be required to take selfies in the app to verify they are wearing a mask or face covering before they are able to pick up passengers, the company announced on Wednesday.

That is just one part of an interactive checklist drivers will have to complete each time they go online to accept rides. Other requirements include confirming they do not have symptoms, sanitize their vehicle regularly and wash their hands.

Riders will also be required to confirm that they are wearing a mask or face covering before hailing a car, but there is not a selfie component. Instead, the company is relying on drivers and riders to keep each other accountable.

“Things are going to look a little different for both riders and drivers,” said CEO Dara Khosrowshahi on a press call Wednesday, referring to the new Uber process as “your second first trip.”

As parts of the United States begin to reopen for business, Uber (UBER) — like its rival Lyft and other travel companies — is taking new measures as it anticipates a ramp up in ride requests. Several airlines, whose core business has also been badly hurt by the pandemic, similarly have said passengers are required to wear masks. However, enforcement is difficult after the plane is boarded.

“We have put in several checks and balances because this is something that is really shared accountability,” said Uber’s head of safety products, Sachin Kansal, in an interview with CNN Business this week. “If the driver approaches and the rider sees the driver is not wearing a mask, they can cancel the trip. They don’t have to get in the car.”

The company said there will be no penalties for such cancellations.

After a ride, if a driver or rider gives a low rating, for example, they’ll be asked for feedback, which includes a new tag: “no face cover or mask.” Kansal said the company will follow up with drivers and riders when this tag is selected.

“If we see repeated violations by the same person, whether it’s a rider or driver, we may take additional steps including taking them off the platform,” Kansal said. He declined to go into details of how many violations might contribute to a removal.

CNN Business was first to report last week that Uber executives had recently approved the new face-covering policy and that it was expected to be introduced in the US and other countries soon. Uber said its policy will be effective in the United States, Canada, India, as well as most of Europe and Latin America.
Days after the CNN Business report, Lyft announced it would soon require drivers and riders to self-certify they are taking certain precautions, including wearing a mask or face covering, before they’re able to accept or request riders. It is not yet clear when the new policy will roll out.

“We wanted to get something out as fast as possible,” Kansal said, when asked why Uber is not introducing a similar tech-based enforcement on the rider side.

Uber has a mechanism for drivers, Kansal said, because of Real-Time ID Check, an in-app feature that has been available for years and prompts drivers to take selfies to compare biometric information to verify their identity. That underlying infrastructure made it easier to implement the new policy, he said, noting that the mask selfie doesn’t replace ID check. In some cases, drivers will be asked to take a selfie without a mask, followed by a mask selfie.
Uber, which is no longer running its carpooling service “Uber Pool” globally, is also adding other precautions. On UberX, Uber’s standard service, it is reducing the number of people allowed in a vehicle, from four passengers to three now. When riders confirm they are wearing a mask, they will also see recommendations to avoid sitting in the front seat and to open windows for ventilation, which is guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.n, which is guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Lyft plans to implement similar precautions.)
In a blog post on Wednesday, Khosrowshahi said the new Covid-19 changes will be in effect through the end of June, and then will be revisited based on local conditions.

The company also said it has allocated $50 million to purchasing supplies like masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant sprays and wipes for drivers.

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