The move follows the death of Samantha Josephson, a student at the University of South Carolina, who was kidnapped and murdered in late March. She was found dead after getting into a vehicle that she believed to be her Uber ride. The murder, which has garnered nationwide media attention, seems to have spurred action by the ride-hailing behemoths.
In response, Uber is launching the Campus Safety Initiative, which includes new features in the app. Currently, the features are in testing, and they remind riders to check the license plate, make and model of the car, as well as the driver's name and picture, before ever entering into a vehicle. The test is running in South Carolina, in partnership with the University of South Carolina, with plans to roll out nationwide.
Lyft, which went public on March 29, implemented continuous background checks for drivers this week. (Uber has had this in place since last year.) Lyft also enhanced its identity verification process for drivers, which combines driver's license verification and photographic identity verification to prevent driver identity fraud on the platform.
Uber, prepping for its stock IPO, is taking the safety precautions seriously. The new system reminds riders about checking their ride three separate times: the first is a banner at the bottom of the app once the ride has been ordered, the second is a warning to check license plate, car details and photo, and the third is an actual push notification before the driver arrives reminding riders to check once more.
Alongside the reminder system, Uber is also working to build out dedicated pickup zones in the Five Points district of Columbia, with plans to roll out dedicated pickup zones at other U.S. universities.
That said, Uber has also warned investors ahead of its IPO about a forthcoming safety report on the company, which could be damaging to the brand. The report is supposed to be released sometime this year, and will give the public its first comprehensive look at the scale of safety incidents and issues that occur on the platform.
"The public responses to this transparency report or similar public reporting of safety incidents claimed to have occurred on our platform ... may result in negative media coverage and increased regulatory scrutiny and could adversely affect our reputation with platform users," said Uber in its April 14 IPO paperwork.
Indeed, the issue of safety on platforms like Uber and Lyft, or really any app that asks you to be alone with total strangers, goes well beyond any single incident. A CNN investigation found that 103 Uber drivers had been accused of sexual assault or abuse in the past four years.
Written by Jordan Crook for TechCrunch.