Photo: ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP/Getty Images

Uber is rolling out several new safety features and upgrades, including the ability to send text messages to 911 dispatches from within the Uber app, and an option for riders to receive a unique PIN number to verify their driver's identity.

Yes, but: The news comes as the company and rival Lyft continue to face criticism over the safety of their services and how they handle complaints.

What's new:

  • Riders will be able to send text messages to 911 dispatchers in cities where this is available. Last year, the company finally rolled out the ability to call 911 from the Uber app after years of resisting the move.
  • Riders will be able to send in reports to Uber via its app while still on a trip, "while the issue is still fresh in [their] mind," and to "reduce under-reporting," senior director of product management Sachin Kansal tells Axios. Previously, they could only do it once the trip is completed.
  • Drivers will be prompted to complete simple movements like blinking or turning their head to confirm their identity in real-time, adding to the "selfie identity check" Uber previously rolled out.
  • Riders can choose to receive a PIN number that their driver will be required to input before they can activate the ride to verify they're the correct driver. Uber is also testing ultrasound technology that could let the two parties' smartphones automatically verify the ride.
  • Uber is expanding to more than 200 cities a feature that notifies riders when their drop-off location is along a bike lane, encouraging them to be careful as they exit the car.

The big picture: The ride-hailing companies have long been criticized for their failure to prevent and adequately handle incidents of sexual harassment, assault, and violence.

  • This month, Lyft was hit with lawsuits from women alleging they were sexually assaulted by their drivers and that the company failed to properly respond to their complaints or disclose whether the perpetrators were still allowed to work for the service (at least one woman says the driver was not suspended immediately).
  • On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that Uber's special division tasked with investigating such complaints has had its recommendations that a driver be deactivated overruled by managers. The Post also said Uber has a three-strike policy and does not share incident information with law enforcement, other companies, or its background-check provider.
  • Uber says these policies have changed since 2017 or vary based on the circumstances, and that its decision not to automatically report incidents to police stems from experts' recommendation that it leave the choice up to the victims.

Go deeper

7 hours ago - Podcasts

Facebook boycott organizers share details on their Zuckerberg meeting

Facebook is in the midst of the largest ad boycott in its history, with nearly 1,000 brands having stopped paid advertising in July because they feel Facebook hasn't done enough to remove hate speech from its namesake app and Instagram.

Axios Re:Cap spoke with the boycott's four main organizers, who met on Tuesday with CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other top Facebook executives, to learn why they organized the boycott, what they took from the meeting, and what comes next.

Boycott organizers slam Facebook following tense virtual meeting

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Civil rights leaders blasted Facebook's top executives shortly after speaking with them on Tuesday, saying that the tech giant's leaders "failed to meet the moment" and were "more interested in having a dialogue than producing outcomes."

Why it matters: The likely fallout from the meeting is that the growing boycott of Facebook's advertising platform, which has reached nearly 1000 companies in less than a month, will extend longer than previously anticipated, deepening Facebook's public relations nightmare.

Steve Scalise PAC invites donors to fundraiser at Disney World

Photo: Kevin Lamarque-Pool/Getty Images

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise’s PAC is inviting lobbyists to attend a four-day “Summer Meeting” at Disney World's Polynesian Village in Florida, all but daring donors to swallow their concern about coronavirus and contribute $10,000 to his leadership PAC.

Why it matters: Scalise appears to be the first House lawmakers to host an in-person destination fundraiser since the severity of pandemic became clear. The invite for the “Summer Meeting” for the Scalise Leadership Fund, obtained by Axios, makes no mention of COVID-19.