Uber overhauls app to address coronavirus safety, require masks


Both Uber drivers and passengers are now required to wear face coverings. 

James Martin/CNET

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Uber has rebuilt its app to make sure drivers and riders adhere to safety guidelines around the novel coronavirus. Before each trip, drivers and passengers will now have to agree to a “Go Online Checklist” of items, including wearing a face mask, keeping windows rolled down when possible and have no one sitting in the front seat.

“Many countries around the world are moving to a new phase of recovery,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said during a press call on Wednesday. “We’ve built a new product experience for a new normal.”

Khosrowshahi said the company has seen rides start to pick up as shelter-in-place orders have eased. To keep drivers and passengers safe and help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, he said Uber decided to redesign its app with a focus on health safety.

“The next time you open the app things are going to look a little different for both riders and drivers,” Khosrowshahi said.

Uber drivers say they’ve experienced a difficult time during the pandemic. Many have reported coming down with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and at least five are known to have died from the illness. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that people avoid sitting in confined spaces with strangers, such as a car, to lower the risk of infection. 

“As cities and countries emerge out of this lockdown, all of us will have to work together to keep each other safe and healthy as we travel,” Sachin Kansal, Uber’s senior director of product management, said during the press call. “The technology we’ve built is flexible and adaptable.”


Uber drivers have to agree to a checklist of items before picking up passengers.


Uber redesigned its apps for both riders and drivers. For riders, when requesting a trip, they’ll first be taken to the checklist. This includes agreeing they have no COVID-19 symptoms and sanitizing their hands, along with the other items. Only then will Uber’s system start looking for a driver. Riders will be required to do the checklist before every trip.

Similarly, when drivers log onto the app, they’ll have to agree to the items on the checklist. Along with not having symptoms and wearing a mask, they’ll also have to say they’ve disinfected their car. Drivers will additionally be required to take a selfie wearing a mask to be able to start working. 

Uber is doing similar safety measures for Uber Eats. Food delivery workers have to agree to wear face coverings at all times and follow customer instructions, like leaving food at the door. Restaurants will also have guidelines, such as having social distancing in place for couriers as they wait.

In all of these instances, drivers, riders, couriers and restaurants will be able to make reports when someone isn’t following the rules. For example, if a passenger takes off their mask during a ride, a driver can report the incident to Uber. If someone has repeat violations, they may be kicked off the app. Drivers and riders will also be able to cancel a trip without penalty if the other person isn’t wearing a mask when they meet up. 

“Our goal here is to keep everyone safe,” Kansal said. “We understand accountability starts with us.”

Uber said it’s spent $50 million to buy cleaning supplies and masks for drivers. So far, the company said it’s distributed 5 million masks. Initially, it was sending masks to drivers in the mail. But now, drivers will be able to pick up supplies at select locations if they prefer. Kansal said Uber has partnered with Clorox, Unilever and other manufacturers to get these supplies.

Some drivers have said these items are hard to get and if they do receive them, they’re limited and don’t last long. Drivers have also said additional safety features, like plastic partitions between the front and back seat, would be helpful. 

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Kansal said Uber will continue to look at its safety policies and that they will “evolve over time.”

Uber redesigned its apps with guidance from the World Health Organization and the CDC and the changes will roll out worldwide on Monday. The company said these new policies will remain in effect through at least the end of June.

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