Uber outlined new safety procedures at a virtual event Wednesday, a move aimed to inspire more drivers and riders to feel comfortable getting into a shared car again.
The rules will require drivers, passengers and food delivery couriers to wear face masks as cities begin to reopen across the U.S. After the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading rapidly in the U.S. more than two months ago, Uber urged riders to stay home and shuttered its carpool service completely. Drivers often were conflicted about continuing to pick up the few remaining passengers and putting their health at risk.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has since April 3 recommended wearing face coverings in public to prevent the spread of the virus. But masks have become a polarizing sign. Some people believe that masks aren’t necessary and that the economic effects of the lockdowns outweigh the health risks. President Donald Trump has long defended his decision to not wear a mask, helping to fuel an anti-mask movement across the U.S. that has spurred protests, fights and at least one fatal shooting.
Uber will also ask drivers to submit a selfie showing them wearing a mask. Drivers who refuse the verification in the U.S., Canada, India and most of Europe and Latin America will not be able to go online beginning Monday. “We’ve designed this feature to adapt to changing public health guidance and regulations as the pandemic evolves,” Uber Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi said in a blog post. The mask policy will remain in effect through June and be reassessed based on local public health needs.
The global pandemic has taken a toll on Uber’s ride-hailing business, with rides down about 80% globally in April. As a result, Uber announced cost-cutting measures last week, including ending food delivery operations in seven countries and trimming 14% of its workforce. But Uber’s food delivery service, Uber Eats, has fared better as homebound people order more takeout. Uber has approached Grubhub about a takeover, according to people familiar with the situation, a move that could combine two of the largest food-delivery services in the U.S. The proposed deal faces resistance from officials, who said Uber has failed to set up adequate safety measures to mitigate the risk of infection for drivers.
Under the new rules, riders will need to confirm that they have taken precautions, including wearing a mask and washing their hands, and must agree to sit in the back seat and open windows for ventilation. Uber is also reducing the maximum suggested number of passengers for an UberX ride from four to three. Drivers will be able to cancel a trip without penalty if they don’t feel safe, including if the rider isn’t wearing a face mask.
Other efforts Uber is making to keep drivers and passengers safe include allocating $50 million to purchase supplies like masks, disinfectant sprays and wipes, hand sanitizer, and gloves. As of this week, Uber has obtained more than 23 million masks for drivers and delivery people around the world, the company said. Uber also announced two new partnerships, with Clorox and Unilever, to provide disinfecting tips and hygiene kits for drivers and delivery people in some markets.