Uber is offering riders a four-digit pin code to help ensure they’re getting into the right car.
The ride-hailing company rolled out the new feature across the U.S. and Canada Tuesday and said all riders in those two countries will be able to use pin codes by the end of the week.
The development follows the death of 21-year-old Samantha “Sami” Josephson, who was murdered in March after getting into the car of a man impersonating an Uber driver. Her body was later found in the woods 65 miles (105 kilometres) away.
Since then, states have been pushing for additional safety requirements for Uber drivers. In New Jersey, where Josephson grew up, the state passed a law requiring ride-hailing drivers to display identification signs on the car’s front windshield and rear window. North Carolina passed a law requiring Uber and Lyft drivers to display lighted signs.
With the new feature, Uber sends a four-digit pin code to the rider. Then, before getting into the car, the rider tells the driver the pin code. The driver enters the pin code into the app, and if everything matches up, the rider gets a notification that says “your ride is verified.”
“They can see the confirmation before getting into the vehicle and they don’t have to take the driver’s word for it,” said Rebecca Payne, senior product manager at Uber, who helped develop the feature.
Uber has long provided riders with license plate numbers and the make and model of cars, and the pin code offers an additional layer of security, Payne said. But the best way to ensure you’re getting into the right car is to check the license plate, she said. After Josephson’s death, Uber started reminding riders to check the license plate and other vehicle details.
“The license plate is not going to match another license plate that’s out on the road, and so that is really a great piece of information the rider can validate before getting in the car,” Payne said.
Riders can choose whether or not to use Uber’s new pin code feature, or they can choose to use it only at night. Ride-hailing companies that cater to children have long used four-digit pin codes to help parents ensure their children are getting into the right car.
Uber and its main U.S. competitor, Lyft, have been experimenting with pin codes in some cities to facilitate airport pickups.
Both Uber and Lyft have struggled with safety issues. Uber released a report in December revealing that 464 people, mostly riders, reported that they were raped while using its services in 2017 and 2018, and there were more than 3,000 assaults reported in 2018. Lyft has said it would issue a similar report, but has not said when. Lyft has been sued by dozens of women who say they were assaulted by drivers and the company did not do enough to protect them.
Members of Congress introduced a bill in October that would require drivers to have quick response codes that a rider could scan with a smartphone. The bill also seeks to prevent anyone but the ride-hailing companies from selling Uber and Lyft signs for drivers to display in their car windows.
Cathy Bussewitz, The Associated Press