The next time you use Uber as transportation, your ride will likely be different than in the past. The coronavirus pandemic delivered a wallop to the rideshare market and adjustments are being made now that America is slowly reopening.
Starting Monday, drivers and riders will be required to wear face masks. At this point in the mitigation process, that should not be a surprise. There is no getting around the face mask requirement for drivers – they must take a selfie to prove they are wearing a face mask before accepting a booking. This is a requirement in all countries that Uber services, not just the United States. Uber is also available in Canada, India, and most of Europe and Latin America. The face mask requirement doesn’t apply to the U.K., though, oddly enough, given it is so hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Riders don’t have to prove the use of a face mask but they must ride in the back seat. Don’t most people already hop in the back seat? Maybe this addresses a capacity restriction in the vehicle. The company recommends no more than three passengers for its standard Uber X service. Before the new requirements, four passengers were allowed. Besides confirming that they are wearing a face mask, passengers must confirm they have washed their hands.
Drivers must also confirm that they don’t have COVID-19 symptoms. Once Uber has verified that the user has taken the necessary safety steps, it will let the rider know in the app. Drivers not wearing a mask will not be allowed to go online to start work.
Passengers must agree to keep the windows open for ventilation. I understand the idea behind this requirement. In tight spaces like an automobile that may have several passengers, air circulation is important. Air systems may be a factor in spreading around the coronavirus. But, speaking as someone who lives on the Gulf coast, an air-conditioner going full blast in a car is a necessity for most of us during ten out of 12 months a year.
Uber is investing in supplies for its drivers like other companies are finding it necessary to do during the pandemic.
The San Francisco-based company, which has been heavily affected by shelter-in-place measures worldwide, will also invest $50 million to distribute supplies such as masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant to drivers and couriers. Uber is partnering with Clorox in the U.S. and Unilever in Europe to provide the supplies.
“Keeping everyone safe means that everyone must take proper precautions, not only to protect yourselves, but to protect your driver and protect the next person who may be getting into the car after,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told reporters Wednesday over a Zoom call.
Drivers and riders will both have the ability to cancel a trip if either of them aren’t wearing a face covering. Uber said it has already acquired 20 million masks and distributed 5 million of them to drivers.
“Self-certification is good but sometimes verification is really important,” Sachin Kansal, senior director of product management at Uber, said on the call. “It is one thing for us to issue guidelines and requirements, but sometimes we have to enforce those requirements.”
Both Uber and its competitor, Lyft, have received pressure to provide paid sick leave for drivers during the pandemic. Both companies have also been targeted with lawsuits over classifying their drivers as contractors. Recently Uber announced it would lay off 14% of its workforce. The company also had a huge loss of $2.9 billion in the first quarter.
Will the new guidelines give passengers a sense of safety against coming in contact with the coronavirus? The precautions sound like common sense actions but what’s to stop either a driver or a passenger to take off the face mask after the confirmations are completed? And confirming hand washing? How is that done other than a passenger saying handwashing was completed? Other than obvious signs of dirt on hands, it’s just the passenger’s word, right? This only works if everyone cooperates.