Uber pledges tougher safety checks
Cab share service Uber has promised to focus on passenger safety amid increasing concerns that its drivers are not adequately screened for past criminal convictions.
Uber's head of global safety defended the company's safety record but also said in a blog post that "as we look to 2015, we will build new safety programmes and intensify others".
The taxi alternative, valued at 40 billion dollars (£26bn), lets passengers summon cars through an app in more than 250 cities around the world, but faces multiples legal and regulatory challenges as it expands in the United States and abroad.
Last week, prosecutors in California, where Uber is based, filed a lawsuit claiming the company exaggerates the thoroughness of its driver background checks. They do not, for example, require drivers to be fingerprinted - unlike drivers of regulated taxis in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The blog post by Philip Cardenas did not mention the California lawsuit, but did refer to a case in India in which a driver was accused of raping a passenger.
His post came on the same day that an Uber driver in Massachusetts appeared in court facing charges including rape and kidnapping after being accused of sexually assaulting a woman who had summoned the ride-sharing service.
Mr Cardenas' post, offered few details of upcoming changes, but said the initiatives would include the creation of teams that could respond rapidly to safety-related reports and new ways to screen would-be drivers.
"We are finding solutions in many places that range from polygraph exams that fill gaps in available data to adding our own processes on top of existing screening for commercial licences," he said. "We are exploring new ways to screen drivers globally, using scientific analysis and technology to find solutions."
A spokesman for San Francisco County district attorney George Gascon said because of its lawsuit, the office could not comment on the specific proposals, but "obviously we encourage any changes that actually make rides safer".
Uber's opponents in the taxi industry, who worry that the increasingly popular app is siphoning away their business, were not impressed.
Calling Uber's proposals "a decoy to quell the intense criticism the company is generating worldwide", a spokesman for the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association challenged the company to "follow the rule of law tomorrow and truly begin moving toward safe operations".