Susan Anderson is the Regional General Manager of Uber for ANZ and North Asia. She shares some of the strategies Uber is pursuing to address women’s safety, especially since establishing an Australia and New Zealand Uber Women’s Safety Forum.
Every day, Uber connects 15 million trips around the world. At that scale, our service reflects the world in which we operate – both the good and the bad. The good news is that the ‘good’ that we see far outweighs the bad. The bad news is that sexual harassment pervades every industry and every community globally – and rideshare and other transport modes are no exception.
A recent study by PLAN International showed just how unsafe women felt on our streets and on transport. The research encouraged young women to drop a purple ‘good’ pin on areas of the city they enjoy and an orange ‘bad’ pin on the precise locations where they feel unsafe or uncomfortable. In Sydney, 60% of pins placed on the street were orange, as were 20% of the pins dropped on public transport.
A 2019 Committee for Sydney report found that while sexual harassment occurred on Sydney streets at all times of day, the majority of respondents felt particularly unsafe walking or near public transport at night.
Ensuring women can safely and equitably move around our cities is something all businesses must tackle – we can’t leave it to individuals, researchers and politicians alone. At Uber, we’ve invested heavily in tech solutions to make travel safer than ever before. Every Uber trip is tracked with GPS, we have a number of safety-focused product features such as the emergency assistance button and both drivers and riders can share their trip details with loved ones. But tech alone can’t solve what is a widespread societal issue.
Earlier this year we established the Australia and New Zealand Uber Women’s Safety Forum, comprised of experts in gender, law enforcement and business, to give us feedback and insight on how we could do more and keep raising the bar. The group pointed out that with millions of riders and more than 60,000 drivers using the Uber platform in our region alone, we are in a position to help raise standards and improve societal gender attitudes. This insight helped us shape mandatory education materials for driver-partners that cover areas like inappropriate questions and conduct. All drivers who use the Uber app in Australia must complete these modules by the end of January, 2020 to maintain access to the app.
We’re also thinking about women’s safety when we introduce fixed pick-up and drop-off zones. These zones are usually introduced at the direction of local councils, with a focus on road safety and traffic control. In many cases, not a lot of thought has been given to issues like lighting. By developing a checklist that we can take back to councils that focuses on personal safety, not just road safety, we can help make urban environments just that little bit safer for women.
We’ve also seen reports of people getting into the wrong vehicles when looking for rideshare drivers. While these reports remain uncommon, their rarity makes them no less disturbing. We have introduced new Check Your ride push notifications, reminding riders at the moment it matters most to check their licence plate, car make and driver’s photo before getting into the car. We’re also working on new tech features like PIN, where riders can choose to receive a unique four-digit code which the driver will need to match in the app to start the trip. And we’re developing new technology that uses ultrasound waves to automatically verify you’re in the right car, no PIN needed.
Finally, sexual harassment is an underreported crime. We’ve been reviewing and updating our communications to Uber app users, building on the advice of our Women’s Safety Forum, police, and experts in the field like WESNET, to encourage reporting. When we do receive such a report against a rider or driver, we take swift action. Access to the app is suspended while our specialist team looks into the report, and permanent loss of access generally follows. Given how underreported sexual harassment is in our society, I believe it’s crucial that women know when we receive these reports, we do take action.
We will continue to look for ways to improve safety measures for all people using the Uber app and in our communities and we welcome ideas on how we and other businesses can do more.
Twenty years ago the United Nations General Assembly nominated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In two decades, not enough has changed. It will take all of our efforts – individuals, companies, researchers, politicians, experts and the media – to achieve the change we want to see.
Uber sponsored the Agenda Setter category at the 2019 Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards.