As COVID-19 concerns continue to transform the future of travel, Uber is the latest company to announce new face covering requirements that the company plans to enforce, in part, through new face detection technology.
Beginning on Monday in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, all Uber drivers and riders will be required to wear masks through the end of June.
Before drivers start accepting rides, they will be required to complete a “Go Online Checklist” in the application. This list includes taking a photo of themselves wearing a face covering.
Uber’s Global Head of Safety Products Sachin Kansal demonstrated to ABC News how the new software in the app can determine whether a driver is wearing a face covering based on the photo. If a face covering is not detected, the driver cannot go online.
“This will work with any mask,” Kansal told ABC News’ Transportation Correspondent Gio Benitez. “We have given tips to drivers on how they can create their own mask, and they can use a bandana. We want them to have anything that is approved by the CDC.”
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As passengers take what the company is calling their “second first trip” they will have to complete a checklist similar to drivers, but they will not need to take a photo of themselves wearing a face covering. Passengers must confirm that they are wearing a mask, agree to sit in the back and open windows for ventilation.
Uber plans to hold riders accountable by encouraging drivers to cancel trips without penalty if the rider isn’t wearing a mask and through their already established two-way feedback system.
“The way we are going to be successful in emerging out of this pandemic is shared accountability,” Kansal said. “This is not just a driver’s responsibility, not just a rider’s responsibility, not just the delivery partner’s responsibility. If all of us are going to stay safe and healthy in the future, we all play a role.”
The company has been working on these features for weeks after noticing the effects on business in Asia.
“We definitely saw signs of some of the effects of the pandemic in Asia, and we formed a committee very early on,” Kansal said.
Uber has been testing the new features with riders and drivers through focus groups over Zoom.
“We have been asking them what will give them peace of mind when they are using Uber,” Kansal explained. “The feedback has been very, very strong. So we feel very confident that this is the right thing to do.”
Uber says it has allocated $50 million to provide supplies to drivers for cleaning and protection such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, disinfectant sprays and wipes. The company has also worked with the WHO and the CDC to help develop safety educational videos that intend to help teach both riders and drivers “best practices.”
The new safety initiatives come as the company recently laid off 3,500 employees in a round of Zoom calls reporting rides have been down by more than 50% amid the pandemic.
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“It’s never easy or uncomplicated to let employees go, and that’s only been more true during this unprecedented period, where we are all working from home across dozens of cities and countries,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement. “We’ve focused on providing the clearest, most empathetic experience, possible and have put together a strong severance package and other benefits.”
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