The Chicago operators of Uber have added a safety checklist to their hail-a-ride smartphone app in response to high-profile sexual assault accusations against Uber drivers.
So far, the “safe ride checklist” is available to app users only in Boston and Chicago. An Uber driver in each city was charged in December with raping a female customer.
“We are being responsive,” Chris Taylor, the general manager of Uber in Chicago, said Wednesday. “Given there have been some accusations . . . we want to make sure everyone knows how to use the platform in the safest way possible.”
Under the app change, implemented just in time for New Year’s Eve, a driver photo and license plate number are displayed. An accompanying message urges customers to verify that the photo and license plate match their driver.
“Educating people and providing tips on safety is a very responsible — doing nothing would be weak,” Taylor said when asked if the change to the app did enough.
Customers first noticed the change to the app on Tuesday, the same day a Chicago driver charged with sexually assaulting an intoxicated customer was ordered held on $500,000 bail by a Cook County judge.
Prosecutors say that in early on Nov. 16, a 22-year-old woman ordered a driver using Uber X, a budget-minded service that costs less because it summons contract drivers who use their own vehicles.
Maxime Fohounhedo, 30, who shared an Uber account with his wife, showed up to give the woman a ride, prosecutors said. But instead of taking the woman home, he drove her to his apartment after she fell asleep in his black four-door vehicle.
When she came to, she found herself on a dark leather couch with Fohounhedo on top of her and her pants and underpants down to her ankles, prosecutors said.
Uber spokeswoman Jennifer Mullin said Tuesday that Fohounhedo was removed as an Uber driver as soon as officials at the company were alerted about the alleged attack.
On Wednesday, Taylor emphasized that the company conducts rigorous background checks, running prospective drivers through local, state and federal law enforcement databases.
He also pointed to an email account, firstname.lastname@example.org, which is monitored 24 hours a day and allows riders to share feedback.
Frequent Uber X user Rachel Hoge said she first noticed the safety checklist when she ordered a car on Tuesday.
Hoge, 28, of Ukranian Village, said she’s “never had a concern for her safety” using Uber X. But she sees the checklist as a positive step made by the company.
“I think it’s great they are reminding people to be alert,” she said.
When asked if the Safe Ride Checklist goes far enough to ensure rider safety, she suggested that there will always be an element of chance that is out of everyone’s hands.
“It’s not going to deter someone from doing a certain act if that’s . . . why they [became] an Uber driver,” Hoge said.