Exclusive interview with Pavan Vaish – Head of Central Operations, South Asia, Uber.

Posted On 01 Jul 2020
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  1.       As we enter a ‘new normal’, what does the future of rideshare look like to you? 

I would like to say, we are cautiously optimistic. It is clear that the desire to support local businesses and communities is still strong, allowing us to recover as the pandemic in Sri Lanka weakens. It’s encouraging to see the discipline of the local community and the collective effort to rise above this situation as a whole. As things go back to normal, we will continue taking the right approach to ensure the safety of the community and encourage our users to cautiously emerge and experience the world again – with Uber as a part of it.

 2.            How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Uber’s operations and what measures has Uber taken in response to the situation?


The pandemic has indeed affected our operations and how people travel during these challenging times. Our biggest concern remains the health and safety of the community we serve, including our drivers and riders and we are committed to keeping our communities safe by setting the highest possible safety standards.

With the drive to step up safety and hygiene standards, we at Uber procured and distributed LKR 10 million worth of safety supplies such as masks and sanitizers, free of cost to our driver partners. We also partnered with Dettol to distribute disinfectants to our driver partners in order to sanitize vehicles before every trip, along with the display of in-car education placards with safety advisories for riders and drivers.

Our tech and safety teams have been working overtime to build a new product experience to help protect everyone, every time you use Uber. We have made it mandatory for both drivers and riders to wear masks – permitting only two passengers in cars and tuks, besides the driver partner. In order to ensure this, we recently launched a range of COVID-19 related safety features – the Rider Go Online Checklist, Driver Go Online Checklist, Mask Verification for drivers, options for feedback including if a rider or driver is not wearing a mask or face cover and an updated cancellation policy. 

These checklists make sure that both riders and drivers are wearing face masks and adhere to guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO advisory and recommendations are specifically customised for ridesharing and we’ve already begun sharing this information with users globally. We’ll now leverage the tips to educate riders and drivers when we learn of unsafe behaviour.

 3.            Tell us a bit about how these new safety features work? 

As people start moving again, we want to be sure the community feels safe riding with us. Before a trip, riders will be asked to complete the Rider Go Online Checklist. Riders are asked to confirm that they have completed key safety steps recommended by the WHO, such as washing hands and wearing a face mask. They must also agree to sit in the rear seat and open windows for ventilation.

Meanwhile, driver partners will be asked to complete the Driver Go Online Checklist and pass Uber’s Mask Verification process to confirm that they are wearing a mask. Drivers will be asked to take a selfie with the mask on, which will be verified through the Uber Driver App. If a driver partner is not wearing a mask, he/she will not be able to go online until verified. This also allows riders to be notified that the driver is wearing a mask when the driver is en route.

We understand that the community is concerned about their health and safety, which is why we continue to innovate, adapt and implement new measures as the pandemic evolves, to provide riders and drivers with peace of mind when using Uber.

 4.            Why has Uber made masks mandatory?

When the pandemic first hit, it was important for us to evaluate and understand the situation that arose. We learnt from the experts and were made aware of the importance of prevention before cure, and the impact of adhering to the health guidelines from experts like the World Health Organisation.

The WHO and local public health authorities have been advising the community to wear a face mask or face cover in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country. This practice is mandatory not just in Sri Lanka, but across the world as well. In keeping with expert advice, we have made wearing masks a mandatory policy globally. We also gained feedback from our riders and drivers claiming that they feel more comfortable and safe when everyone in the vehicle is taking precautions.

 5.            Is Uber supporting drivers to access masks and other cleaning materials? 

As we all begin to move around in this “new normal,” access to cleaning materials and personal protective equipment is critical to ensure safety on our platform. That is why we have invested 10 million LKR to purchase cleaning supplies and protective equipment to distribute to all our active driver and delivery partners. We have been distributing masks and sanitisers free of cost to our driver base in Sri Lanka so that they can comply with our mandatory mask policy.

 6.            Is the Mask Verification same as Uber’s Real Time ID Check? How will this feature be able to verify that a driver matches with their account if their face is covered? 

These are two different technology enabled verification processes and both are live on our platform. The Real Time ID Check prompts the driver to take a selfie to verify their account, before requesting them to take a selfie with the mask on.

The technology and process behind the Mask Verification is different, since our mask detection system was built for object recognition and is only able to assess the presence of a mask. The Mask Verification process follows the real time ID check.

 7.            How can Uber ensure that riders and drivers wear masks and follow your policy at all times? 

As I explained before, both drivers and riders need to undergo the Go Online checklist to confirm that they are wearing masks and adhering to the safety guidelines. Drivers will be prompted to take a selfie with their mask on before they are able to go online and accept trips. They will be asked to do this each time they log back in. We’ve also built a similar checklist for riders. Before every trip, riders must certify that they’ve taken certain precautions like wearing a face mask and washed or sanitized their hands. If either the rider or driver partner is not wearing a mask or face covering, we encourage our users to cancel trips and to report the issue to Uber through the app. This will help us take corrective measures and ensure all trips are compliant with our policy.

 8.            What does Uber do with users who do not adhere to the mandatory face mask policy?

Accountability is the key and it goes both ways. That’s why we are encouraging both drivers and riders to cancel trips without penalty if they don’t feel safe. If the rider isn’t wearing a mask, the driver can cancel and similarly, if a driver shows up without a mask on, the rider can cancel the trip without penalty too, and report the issue to us via the app.

Uber’s two-way feedback system has long helped ensure both riders and drivers uphold certain standards by requiring feedback on issues like vehicle quality, navigation, and speeding. We are now adding new options for feedback, such as those related to health and safety concerns. Drivers and riders who repeatedly violate mask policies risk losing access to the Uber app.

 9.            Will this process be made permanent on the app?

As cities start to open up again and people look to Uber to get around, we’re going to be cautious and err on the side of safety. These requirements may not be necessary over the long term, but we think it’s important to start out with an abundance of caution – in coordination with public health expertise and science.

We will continue to assess and adapt as the pandemic evolves, to provide riders and drivers with peace of mind every time they use Uber.

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