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7 min read

    7 min read

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    We’re getting a panic button! Oh wait, passengers are… plus, the “safety center” may need a little work – in person. All the latest in Uber and Lyft news from senior RSG contributor John Ince, who covers the Uber panic button, a not-so-pleasant encounter at an Uber Hub and more.

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    We’re getting a panic button! Oh wait, passengers are… plus, the “safety center” may need a little work - in person. All the latest in Uber and Lyft news from senior RSG contributor John Ince, who covers the Uber panic button, a not-so-pleasant encounter at an Uber Hub and more.

    Uber’s new panic button is now live in the US [The Verge]

    Sum and Substance: In April, Uber announced that it would be adding a direct way for riders to call 911 within its app in an effort to boost its flagging safety reputation. Today, the company is making that new feature live and fully operational across the US.

    The emergency button is located in a new “safety center” menu that is easily accessible from the app’s home screen, giving riders a quick way to contact first responders in the event that something goes wrong during their trip. The safety center also includes information about the driving screening process, insurance protections, and community guidelines (aka the list of horrible behaviors that will get you banned from Uber).

    To dial 911, riders will need to swipe up on the safety center icon, and then tap “911 assistance.” They will then be asked to confirm they mean to dial 911 before the call is put through to emergency dispatchers. This is meant to minimize accidental dials, explained Sachin Kansal, Uber’s director of product management. The panic button was previously tested out by Uber in India…

    The safety center features are aimed at riders, not drivers, but Kansal said that a similar panic button for drivers would be added soon. After all, riders can be belligerent, too. He said the presence of panic buttons in the app would hopefully deter both riders and drivers from behaving badly….

    In a recent interview with The Verge, Khosrowshahi said the panic button and improved driver screening “is just the beginning.” He added, “This is like we’ve started really working on this in a heavy and determined way as a company. And this is going to be a real differentiator for us. And by the way, the benefit is it’s a good thing for everybody.”

    My Take:  There have been rumors about a panic button for well over a year now. It’s something that makes perfect sense. So what took them so long? Did Uber really have to take this long to work out the bugs on this in India? Maybe Uber had other priorities, while they continued to fight fires?

    Somehow I can’t think of a higher priority than giving passengers a quick and easy way to call for help. But wait, what about a driver 911? DK says it’s coming, but why do they always make passengers the higher priority? Simple answer: they’re the paying customers.

    A driver alleged an Uber rep assaulted him. Uber offered $400 to make it go away: [Quartz Media]

    Sum and Substance: On Jan. 31, Aaron Johnson, 53, drove to Uber’s driver service center in Salt Lake City, Utah, to sort out a rider complaint. Johnson, a military veteran, had received almost entirely perfect five-star reviews from passengers and he feared the complaint, that he had rolled his eyes, would hurt his Uber driver rating.

    The rider complaint turned out to be the least of his problems that day. During his visit to the service center, known as a Greenlight Hub, Johnson alleges that one of Uber’s reps became irate, asked him to leave, and, when Johnson attempted to take a photo of him, seized his wrist and wrested away his mobile phone.

    Johnson later reported the incident Uber, which ultimately offered him $400 if he signed a contract releasing Uber from all claims and requiring him to keep both the settlement and initial incident confidential. Johnson refused.

    Uber confirmed to Quartz that a dispute occurred between Johnson and an employee at its Greenlight Hub in Salt Lake City earlier this year. “We regret to hear that Mr. Johnson was unhappy with his support experience. That was not our intent,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement. “We always aim to do right by our customers, and we know there is always room for improvement.”…

    Uber has worked hard to court military vets like Johnson, who also receives disability compensation from the Department of Veteran Affairs for a service-connected injury. Like many drivers, Johnson had his complaints about Uber—he didn’t like Kalanick and the pay was low—but was optimistic things would improve under Khosrowshahi. His experience at the Greenlight Hub made him doubt that much had changed. “Same Uber, same corporate culture,” he said…

    When asked if this was a standard practice, an Uber spokesperson said response teams are given discretion to come up with solutions, such as voluntary assistance payments, for situations deemed unusual or out of the ordinary, as Johnson’s was….

    “They’ve made such a big deal about veterans and cleaning up their image,” he said. “I’m in that demographic. And their response to me was, you don’t matter, sorry.”

    My Take:  All this might simply have been dismissed as yet another altercation that escalated between driver and someone else – except that “someone else” here is an Uber service employee.  One can’t expect all Uber service employees to always give drivers the answer they want, but we should be able to enter into a conversation with them without being told, “We don’t need you.” It may be true, but we don’t want to be told the truth.

    As drivers, we’ve grown accustomed to the sugar coating of this gig – You’re important to us… Drivers may be important to Uber in the aggregate, but individually we are expendable commodities.

    As for that $400 offer to go away and keep silent, kudos to the driver for refusing to be bought off. But, I’m afraid, it may be the best offer he’ll receive – because there aren’t many lawyers who will take this case, at least from my reading of the facts.

    The Rideshare Guy on Uber, Lyft, and what their drivers really want [Curbed]

    Sum and Substance: The impact of ride-hailing has been swift and sweeping. Uber, which was founded less than a decade ago in 2009, has become a multibillion dollar transportation startup with worldwide ambitions, and the technical ability to pursue autonomous vehicle technology and even experiment with Blade Runner-esque flying cars.

    But as Uber and Lyft continue to expand, it’s important to remember that for all the high-tech advances, an equally important part of their legacies has been institutionalizing the gig economy. With more than two million employees in the United States combined, these two companies helped make these new working arrangements an everyday part of many people’s lives. And their continued reckoning with labor issues, costs, and recruitment suggest they haven’t figured out the right formula.

    Harry Campbell understands the evolution of Uber and Lyft better than most. Known as the Rideshare Guy, after his popular blog and podcast about working in the industry, Campbell created an important forum and resource for the industry, inspired by his time as a driver. His new book, The Rideshare Guide, offers advice on getting started and getting established as a driver, but also offers insight into how ridehailing has evolved, and the issues that drivers face.

    Editor’s Note: In this article by Patrick Sisson for Curbed, our very own Harry Campbell is interviewed about the gig economy, driver frustrations, plus the future of Uber, Lyft and their competitors. It’s a wide-ranging interview, tackling everything from driver pay to flying cars – plus it addresses the realities many drivers are facing. You can read the article above, and check out The Rideshare Guide (out now!) here.

    Readers, what do you think of this week’s round up?

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    -John @ RSG

    John Ince

    John Ince

    John Ince is a former Fortune reporter and Wall Street banker. He has about 1,000 rides under his belt driving part time for Uber and Lyft.  He’s writing a book about his experiences entitled:  Travels With Vanessa:  A Rideshare Driver Tries To Make Sense of It all - For a sneak peak visit the link above.

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