In response to persistent safety concerns expressed world wide, Uber has moved to introduce a safety code of conduct. This comes after a review by Guiliani Partners, a choice of partner that suggests an equal concern with optics as well as safety.
Much has been said about customer safety at Uber, but little attention has been paid to driver safety. Without minimizing the seriousness of the safety breaches reported, the demonization of drivers as a threat to women is unhelpful and grossly unfair. Exhibit A – this image from Pando Daily.
So here are some specific concerns about the new code of conduct in no particular order:
- This seems more aimed at riders than drivers. This week’s weekly partner update to drivers, in London for example, made absolutely no mention of the new code.
- US centric – the appointment of Guiliani and the code’s reference of ‘Federal or State law’ suggests to me that there is little consideration or understanding of local context beyond US shores.
- No safety veto for drivers – disappointingly the code of conduct fails to recognise the driver is ultimately responsible for the safety of passengers and vehicle and therefore must have final say on safety. Without this explicit exemption, drivers motivated by the ratings system can be feel pressured to accept an unsafe ride. See this for example.
- Lack of transparent engagement – Uber is a social community of riders and drivers yet their is no evidence offered that either rider or drivers were openly consulted on the development of this code. As such, it makes the code more difficult to implement and risks it being seen as a piece of corporate Uber window dressing. Transparent engagement is a critical first step in just culture within a credible safety management system. The vast majority of drivers want to operate safely so why not engage them rather than perceive them to be the risk to be protected against?
- The proposed global community safety management code of conduct offers no quality standards definition nor any means of independent third party audit, verification or assurance. The blog post accompanying the code mentions the constitution of a Safety Advisory Board but matter of how the board will operated and governed has been ducked.
- The code is inconsistent if not in contradiction with Driver and Rider Terms of Service. Despite the announcement of the launch of Quality Assurance Program, Uber accepts no responsibility for Quality in Riders’ terms:
The quality of the transportation services requested through the use of the Uber App and/or the Services is entirely the responsibility of the Transportation Provider who provides such transportation services to you. Uber under no circumstance accepts liability in connection with and/or arising from the transportation services provided by the Transportation Provider or any acts, actions behaviour, conduct and/or negligence on the part of the Transportation Provider or its employees. Any complaints about the transportation services provided by the Transportation Provider should be submitted to the Transportation Provider.
Similarly in Driver agreements:
Partner acknowledges and agrees that Uber does not provide any transportation services, and that Uber is not a transportation or passenger carrier.
By providing the Driving Service to the Customer, the Partner accepts, agrees and acknowledges that a direct legal relationship is created and assumed solely between the Partner and the Customer. Uber shall not be responsible or liable for the actions, omissions and behaviour of the Customer in or in relation to the Partner, the Driver and the Vehicle. The Drivers are solely responsible for taking reasonable and appropriate precautions in relation to any third party with which they interact in connection with the Driving Service. Where this allocation of the Parties’ mutual responsibilities may be ineffective under applicable law, the Partner undertakes to indemnify, defend and hold Uber harmless from and against any claims that may be brought against Uber in relation to the Partner’s provision of the Driving Service under such applicable law.
So this begs the question, if Uber intends that it should not in any way responsible or liable for transportation operations, is this operational code of conduct only for marketing and public perception purposes? If so then the effort is doomed to failure because process will never follow the rhetoric.
- Incident response teams – Uber claims to have already set these up. But if they are its unclear how either rider or driver can active the team to access assistance.
In recent weeks I experienced a serious issue regarding violent and racist behaviour of passengers. The incident happened around midnight and I reported the matter to Uber via the App as well as had the police attend. However, Uber support did not respond until mid morning the next day and even then there was no practical support beyond platitudes. Uber would not pass on rider details to the police proactively, instead the police had to approach Uber. They would not tell me what if any action they had taken with the rider so I must assume they are still out there as a potential hazard for other drivers. I still had to accept the low rating of the passenger ride I had to terminate as far as I know. In addition, there is almost zero sharing of safety intelligence with drivers despite the huge potential to gather and share information with drivers.
Earlier this month Uber sent out a note warning drivers that there was an individual in London who ‘approached Uber partners and attempted to provoke them’. Drivers were advised to: ‘Remain calm and do not respond or retaliate in any way. Lock your doors, move on and call the police when you are able to. If you have a passenger in the car, reassure them and take them to their destination as usual.’
Yet when pressed, Uber refused to provide any further information that would assist drivers in identifying and managing this specific threat citing confidentiality.
The code of conduct is a welcome first step but if Uber wants to truly build a safety culture for riders and drivers it needs to do much more to develop a community culture of safety.