Uber drivers march from Rietondale to their offices in Waterglen to hand over a memorandum of grievances. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)
Uber drivers march from Rietondale to their offices in Waterglen to hand over a memorandum of grievances. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

How e-hailing platforms are using technology to make trips safer for riders, drivers

By Sihle Mlambo Time of article published Oct 12, 2021

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Johannesburg - Uber has stepped up its safety features to protect drivers from criminally charged riders, while also stepping up security measures to protect riders from shadowy drivers who may use ‘rented profiles’ to access the platform.

E-hailing drivers have been a target of hoax trip requests, from riders who use new accounts to rob them of their cellphones and money while they drive, trying to earn a living.

Facebook groups dedicated to e-hailing drivers on social media have reported how drivers are robbed by people using new rider accounts in an attempt to rob an unsuspecting e-hailing driver.

But Uber has sought to protect its drivers by introducing new technology which would enable the platform to identify person's committing such crimes on the platform.

Uber’s general manager for Sub-Saharan Africa, Frans Hiemstra, said they had introduced a rider verification feature, which only permits new cash riders to open an Uber rider account if the person links their rider profile to an existing Facebook account.

“New cash riders without a valid credit card on file will now need to confirm their identity by linking to their Facebook account,” Hiemstra explains.

Drivers have said on social media that they were often robbed by new rider accounts who used cash trip facility for payment and new accounts - often with lucrative ride requests.

But another scourge that e-hailing companies have been battling to deal with is that of rented profiles, wherein a driver uses a legitimate profile of an existing Uber/Bolt account to access the platform, while the driver is a person unknown to the platform.

Uber said it had now introduced a real-time ID check facility which randomly prompt a drivers to take a selfie before accepting rides on the app.

“Real-Time ID Check - Which prompts drivers periodically to take a selfie prior to accepting rides and compares it to the driver’s profile photo.

“This helps ensure the person driving matches the account we have on file,” said Hiemstra.

Bolt has not introduced such technology on its platform, but Gareth Taylor, Bolt's SADC regional manager, said they were constantly looking for ways and means to make e-hailing safer for both riders and drivers.

“Bolt is always looking for ways to make e-hailing safer for everybody, in consultation with the SAPS, the Department of Transport, and other stakeholders, so that we can continue to offer a way that more than 25,000 drivers can earn an income and a way for millions of people in South Africa to access affordable door-to-door transport.

“Bolt is continuously developing safety features and tools that have a real impact on addressing drivers’ safety concerns,” said Taylor.

Some of these tools include Bolt's partnership with Namola, which allows drivers with access to an SOS emergency button.

“A partnership with Namola via an in-app integrated SOS emergency button that shares the driver’s details and location with Namola’s 24/7 call centre, and then deploys private security and emergency services immediately.

“Drivers that want extra peace of mind can purchase a Namola physical button that is separate to their mobile phone, that can be kept on their person. Pushing this button will activate the same level of response as the in-app button,” said Taylor.

Both Uber and Bolt said drivers were not penalised for rejecting cash rides.

“Bolt introduced ‘cash optionality’ on the driver app, which gives drivers the option to reject a cash trip if they feel unsafe, without this impacting their platform rating.

“Before the driver arrives to collect a passenger, they are able to see whether it is a cash or card trip (drivers are able to reject card trips for safety reasons without risk of their accounts being deactivated), and the number of trips a passenger has taken in the past (if it is a cash trip, in an unsafe area, late at night and the rider has completed less than three trips in the past, the driver has the information to reject that trip).

“Drivers are able to see where they will be collecting their passengers, and where they will be taking them to - and they can choose to decline a trip if they are concerned about the safety of the collection or destination points.

“They are able to see the name of their passenger in the app and can decline the trip if the person who is waiting for them does not match the in-app profile of the person who hailed the ride,” said Taylor.

Uber’s Hiemstra said using GPS technology, they were able to identify rare events like unexpected stops or possible crashes.

“In these situations, Uber can initiate a Ride Check by reaching out to both the rider and the driver to offer assistance.

“Furthermore, Rider Selfies have been introduced for new cash riders without a valid credit card on file, which is an intelligent new safety feature, to South Africa.

“The technology works by prompting riders to share a selfie before requesting their first cash trip.

“The selfie has to be of one person, with no face coverings like sunglasses or masks, and not be a photo of a photo.

“This new verification method will work alongside another rider verification method which confirms a rider’s identity by linking to their Facebook account. This all takes place within a few seconds.

“For rider and driver peace of mind, with the push of a button in the app, users can connect directly to private emergency services and security response when needed through a third-party private security supplier through the in-App Emergency Button,” he said.

Uber said it was continuously working to build better tools to protect both riders and drivers.

“We are continuously working to build better tools, processes and partnerships to raise the bar on safety.

“We’re committed to doing the right thing and take on our part of the responsibility to better safety in the industry. We will continue to invest and innovate to improve on safety,” said Hiemstra.

Disgruntled meter taxi operators and at times, minibus taxi operators, are still a big threat to e-hailing drivers.

The e-hailing companies said they were constantly looking for ways and means to engage all three government spheres to ensure the safety of drivers.

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