Uber adds option for teens traveling alone

Until now, teenagers weren’t supposed to travel alone in an Uber.

Starting May 22, the ride-sharing company will add an option in select cities for minors between the ages of 13 and 17 to ride solo in one of their cars. The new service will launch in more than a dozen cities in the United States and more in Canada, and requires passengers to use a special family account.

It is officially against the company’s terms of service for children to travel alone and a driver can report anyone they suspect is under 18. That hasn’t stopped kids from using ride-sharing services for years. They create their own accounts or siphon those of their parents or friends, go to school, work or home safely after a party.

“There are cases where teenagers get into Ubers. This situation is not ideal for the driver, teen or parent due to the lack of visibility,” said Sachin Kansal, vice president of product management at Uber.

The new program will automatically make a number of existing safety features mandatory for young drivers. Their smartphones will make an encrypted audio recording of the ride, they will need to give their drivers a PIN before the ride can begin, the app will show emergency options if it detects something is wrong, and parents can monitor the ride. live journey by themselves device. A novelty is that parents can call the driver directly during a trip.

Only certain drivers will be allowed to pick up minors, according to Uber. They’ll need to have high ratings and some driving experience for the company — at least hundreds of trips, Kansal said, though the company doesn’t share exact thresholds. There will be no background checks or additional training for drivers picking up teens and the company still does not perform fingerprint-based background checks. However, it will frequently rerun its checks on the selected drivers.

Uber has been quietly testing the program for three months and hopes to expand it to the rest of the country, Kansal said.

Some of the initial cities include Tucson, Phoenix, Atlanta, Bloomington, Ind., Minneapolis, Kansas City, Mo., New York, and Houston.

Drivers the company says are qualified to transport teenagers to test cities are automatically enrolled in the program, but Uber says they have the option to disable all underage rides in their settings.

Uber tried a similar pilot program for teens in three cities in early 2017, before Dara Khosrowshahi became CEO later that year. The program was criticized at the time for not providing enough transparency for drivers or safety features for drivers and was shut down.

Other companies like HopSkipDrive have tried to fill the gap, offering rides for young children and using extensive background checks and training.

Letting children under 18 ride alone in a car with a stranger is a serious problem for parents. Uber has had safety issues in the past and has started publishing reports that break down the number of rapes and assaults every two years.

However, services may be necessary for some families when public transit is not an option, parents are at work, or teens do not have a car.

The percentage of American teenagers getting a driver’s license has dropped in recent years, according to the Federal Highway Administration. According to a 2019 survey by CS Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan, one in eight parents say their teen has taken a car trip. Two-thirds of parents said they were worried about drivers sexually abusing teenagers, and three-quarters were concerned about driving safety.

Teen rides was one of many new features the company announced on Wednesday, aiming to add younger and older customers to its app’s ever-growing list of services. Uber is also expanding access to a phone call option that people not yet comfortable with apps can call from a cell phone to book a ride. Teens will be able to order Uber Eats on their family account, but drugs and alcohol will be blocked. There are also features to split grocery orders and rides based on the distance traveled by each passenger.

The company is also testing an option to book another type of ride.

“If you find yourself in Greece this summer, you can order a boat from Mykonos,” Kansal said.

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