In response to last year's reported rape of a passenger in India, Uber will offer a panic button within the app for improved emergency response in that country.
The announcement is a swift response to the Mumbai Transportation Department's recommendation to ban Uber because it hasn't "implemented new security measures."
In comments to local media, authorities said they were not pleased with what's been done so far:
Uber has merely given assurances of hiring staffers for a control room, but has not yet set up the facility and a distress helpdesk, officials said. It has also not put panic buttons in cabs. Nor has it displayed RTO and police helplines in cabs.
Uber responded in a blog post outlining the steps that it has taken to address the concerns of the local regulatory authority. These steps include:
- Full police verification for new drivers and complete sharing of all driver and vehicle data.
- Ability for passengers to share rides using "Share my ETA."
- The creation of a dedicated "Incident Response Team" to manage emergencies.
- The panic button.
The team will expand the "Share My ETA" feature to be more easily shareable with up to 5 friends and family members. It will be called "Safety Net" and it will share location and driver information with those 5 selected contacts.
On the panic button side, there are some very clear limitations to its in-app location. Will a passenger in distress have enough time to open the app and navigate to the button? Or will safety-minded passengers simply leave the app open to the panic button in case something happens? This would create an atmosphere of distrust, and also be prone to accidental taps.
Will a passenger in distress have enough time to open the app and navigate to the button? Or will safety-minded passengers simply leave the app open to the panic button in case something happens? This would create an atmosphere of distrust, and also be prone to accidental taps.
Uber's local team says it would support — and pay for — a physical panic button under the following conditions:
i) There is only one physical panic button per car.
ii) The duty to install the button is on the owner of the vehicle.
iii) Pressing the button calls the local police directly, since they are best positioned to react to a law and order situation.
The panic button will be available February 11th, and is currently localized to India.
If proven successful, this feature would certainly be something that other jurisdictions would welcome. It also highlights the fact that everyday taxis themselves don't have any sort of panic feature, which makes Uber rides a step ahead as far as direct access to help once the button is launched.
NB: Uber logo courtesy Shutterstock.