The app will enable drivers to request help urgently from the closest security company. File picture: Lukas Coch / EPA.
Johannesburg - Global e-hailing service provider Uber has launched an advanced safety app following a fruitful partnership between Uber and Aura to address safety concerns raised by drivers.

On Thursday the public transport service operator said it began working with Aura in 2016 to strengthen security measures after numerous violent confrontations between e-hailing service providers and members of the metered taxi ­i­ndustry.

The partnership produced the Aura mobile application that sought to upgrade the slower emergency hotline. It has an on-the-app button that instantly calls for help from leading private security companies.

The application, available on both Android and Apple devices, will enable drivers to request help urgently from the closest security company. Uber said this meant drivers would now be protected by armed private security officers working in different geographical areas 24 hours a day.

Closer than cops

Uber and Aura could not disclose the names of the security companies for security reasons. However, the companies said the idea to use them was because there were more private security officers than police officers in South Africa.

These private security companies worked within geographical parameters that meant they could, in most cases, be closer to the person calling for help than members of the SAPS.

From left: Aura chief executive Warren Myera, Uber general manager Ailyssa Pretorius and Uber Sub-Saharan Africa general manager Alon Lits at the launch of the safety app for Uber passengers and drivers. Picture: James Mahlokwane

Uber wanted the app to assure drivers that their safety was highly prioritised. However, on the normal Uber app, part of ensuring that passengers felt safe not just from external attackers, but also from the drivers, was the creation of the share trip functionality, which allowed passengers to share their trips with other people.

Other people would receive a link, which would allow them to view the driver’s details, including a picture, and then monitor the trip in its entirety. That could also be seen by the passenger before the trip started.

Background checks

Uber Sub-Saharan Africa general manager Alon Lits said his wife used the share trip functionality when she travelled by Uber. This, he said, made her feel safe because someone who cared about her monitored her trip as she travelled.

Nevertheless, he emphasised that since 2013, Uber had been doing background checks on all potential drivers through a system linked to a police database.

He pointed out that Uber allows passengers and drivers to rate each other after trips. This provides Uber with crucial information about each individual passenger and client’s behaviour.

The Star