Uber to introduce 'panic button' safety feature in India

AP News
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Posted: Feb 06, 2015 2:05 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Uber says it's introducing two new safety features for riders in India in response to concerns about safety that followed a passenger reporting she had been raped by a driver.

The San Francisco taxi alternative company says it will launch a "panic button" in its ride-hailing app that allows riders to notify the police in case of an emergency, and a "safety net" feature that will allow users to share trip details and their location with as many as five other people.

Uber says it is also creating a local team that will respond to reports by riders and will get a notification when the panic button is pressed.

The company says the new features will be available Wednesday. Uber did not say if the new features will be available in other countries, but said in an email that it will have more updates in the coming months.

Uber, valued at $40 billion, lets passengers summon cars through an app in more than 250 cities around the world. It faces multiples legal and regulatory challenges as it expands in the United States and abroad.

An Uber passenger said she was raped by a driver in New Delhi in December, and she sued the company in January. The lawsuit alleges Uber isn't doing enough to keep passengers safe, and Uber may also face charges if Indian prosecutors believe it misrepresented the safety of its services.

The company says it plans to improve its safety programs in 2015 and is looking for new ways to screen drivers.

In India, Uber has been banned in New Delhi, the southern technology hub of Hyderabad, and the entire southern state of Karnataka.

The Times of India said Thursday that regulators in Mumbai also supported a ban and that they want Uber to set up emergency support services, put panic buttons in cabs, and display phone numbers for the police and regional transportation office.

On its blog, Uber said the idea of a physical panic button wasn't feasible because it doesn't own the cabs. It added that buttons would be vulnerable to wear and tear and said that if it and other operators were forced to put buttons in cars, passengers might get confused in an emergency.

Uber said it would support physical panic buttons if the owner of the vehicle were responsible for installing them and if the button called the police directly.