In the same week that a petition was launched to ban “sexist” ride-sharing app DriveHer, Uber has launched a new initiative to end gender violence in their cars.
Uber has launched a new safety initiative in New Zealand and Australia called Driving Change, part of a commitment to preventing gender-based violence for users of the ride-sharing app. This announcement comes in the same week as a (now-deleted) petition was launched to ban the women-only ride-sharing service DriveHer, and over 100 Kiwi women contacted The Spinoff to share their experiences of harassment and abuse.
Sylvia Yandall has worked for HELP Auckland for over nine years, and says sexual violence in taxis and ride-sharing cars remains a huge problem in New Zealand. “It feels like it is still happening regularly. Too regularly. At one stage, we’d be getting at least one case a week.” In recent months, she notes that rate has decreased. “Whether that means it’s actually happening less, or people are just reporting less, I’m not sure.”
Uber’s new gender violence initiative is focussed on education, says Amanda Gilmore, New Zealand country manager for Uber, with the company giving the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network grants to work in communities and schools to “create dialogues” about sexual harm. That education extends to drivers, riders and Uber employees. “We’ve already got guidelines that cover this, but we are doing more specific education setting the rules about what is appropriate and what isn’t.”
The programme follows the launch of Uber’s ‘safety tool kit’ earlier in the year, which includes an option to send your trip details to a trusted contact, resources about driver background checks and an emergency assistance button that dials straight through to 111 from within the app. Currently, all Uber drivers in New Zealand are required to get a passenger endorsement through the NZTA, the standard requirement for all small passenger services.
A concern for Yandall is that the drivers themselves aren’t always the ones committing the violence, something she has seen in her work with HELP. “We understand that if someone has called a ride-share organisation, the driver can pass the job on to another person who can then go instead of them to make the pick up, taking advantage of a female travelling on their own… That’s a difference we haven’t been aware of in other situations involving taking a taxi home.” To combat this, Uber provides a Real Time ID Check feature to check the right driver is behind in the wheel.
In addition to the 100-plus stories reported earlier in the week, The Spinoff was also contacted by a woman called Sarah, who relayed how she refused to answer a series of personal questions from her Uber driver. “I would have thought it was fairly standard for a woman to guard her safety… It’s bad enough that the drivers know where you live.” Two hours later, she received a complaint email from Uber that she had made the driver uncomfortable. “In a situation where the woman refuses to answer a man’s inappropriate questions, the woman was still the problem.”
Gilmore says that Uber takes complaints from both drivers and riders very seriously. “We have a 24/7 team that monitors this type of feedback and ensures we get both sides of the story for a full, holistic assessment of what happened.” She encourages riders to communicate any instances where they feel unsafe or uncomfortable. “We can’t do anything about it unless we are informed. If you complain about a driver, we can block their access to the app while we investigate the scenario.” No further action was taken with Sarah’s account after she explained that her driver had been inappropriate, although she felt their response was inadequate considering she told them her personal safety had been compromised.
Gilmore admits that hearing stories of abuse and harassment is a challenge as both a woman and the national manager of our biggest ride-sharing service. “That’s just not the experience that we want people to have. It’s a societal issue, without a doubt, and we are one piece of it. What we have to do is make sure that small piece of it is as good and as safe as it possibly can be.” For Yandell at HELP, she is encouraged to see a decrease in gender violence as taxis and ride-sharing apps improve their processes.
“When these things happen, the organisations simply have to do everything they can to ensure that it doesn’t happen again,” she says. “Nothing is ever going to be perfect, but we have to try.”
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