The next battleground in the disruption of transport will be arguably its most important – safety.
Uber has recently been refused a new licence to operate in London by UK capital’s transport authorities which cited breaches placing “passengers and their safety at risk”.
This comes after it controversially released a new safety measure allowing riders and drivers to record audio through its app, while Didi earlier this month backed away from a curfew for female riders.
These measures should be a wake-up call, that the rideshare, and broader industry, must step up and look at how technology can really provide safe transport and peace of mind for all stakeholders.
In Australia it is part of our economic citizenship that we should all have access to safe ways to access our cities, those that don’t are put unfairly at a disadvantage and risk isolation.
The rideshare industry has been stumped at how to make its platform safer and has resorted to measures which are akin to putting a fresh coat of paint on the same problems.
Australia, and the world, need transport platforms to enable vulnerable individuals to live independently- like giving parents, elderly or disabled the means to get around, do their shopping or just live daily life without needing someone to always help them.
This is why we continue to invest and evolve our platform, Shebah, rapidly responding to the needs of the market with mobilising children a focus. The market is diversifying. Women and families want more than just cheaper rates and speed, they want to be taken good care of.
There are two key ways we can improve safety. The first is through changes to regulations and legislations, and the second is through developing the technology on our platforms, a key reason for our second crowdfunding raise.
First, improving the way we are able to screen drivers is essential. We are reliant on police and working with children checks, but these do not screen for the most common sackable offences.
There is nothing unlawful about asking a passenger for sex. If he grabs a passenger, it’s assault. If he forces himself on her. It’s assault. But if he asks her for sex 15 times in a 20 minute drive? It’s sexual harassment. A civil matter. No criminal conviction recorded. Clean record.
At worst a driver might get kicked off a platform, but if he or she has all the required paperwork in order, the new platform will run a police check and it’ll come up clean and he will be back on the road.
This is why there must be an industry wide Code of Conduct which should be supported by all transport providers from taxis, to rideshare to private drivers.
In addition, we need data. You can’t fix what you don’t measure and you don’t measure what you don’t value. Without a quantifiable measure of the issues of safety, we won’t take the necessary steps to protect women, and men, at risk.
To this end, there should be a central repository or API set up to share data to help verify and confirm identity across rideshare platforms. What that means is that we need an industry wide API so we can see where drivers have been reported multiple times for offences like sexually inappropriate comments and subsequently removed from other platforms.
We are constantly refining how we can provide more peace of mind to our drivers, our riders, and parents who trust us to take unaccompanied minors.
We are launching an Australian-first ability to pre-book and select your driver and transport.
Demand from the market and insights from our community of drivers and riders is driving and shaping the pipeline of features. We are acting on a recent survey in which 87.5 per cent said we should allow dads to travel with children in child seats driven by a commitment to child safety.
But beyond companies, safe transport remains a societal problem, the Victorian Government has recently held a Civic Labs challenge calling for new ideas on: “How can we make the Victorian transport system more responsive to user safety and wellbeing?”
We look forward to the creative tech driven solutions that come out of this, but as an industry, we must all continue to commit to lifting the standard. The industry must not put the onus on the individual, or resort to band-aid solutions that could also impact our privacy.
A better approach is needed. Technology driven startups must continue to disrupt the status quo and not just for profit, we must ensure the safety of everyone needing simply to get to their next destination.
- George McEncroe is the founder and CEO of Australia’s women-only rideshare service Shebah, which has almost completed its second crowdfunding round on Birchal.