Uber launches rider verification feature after increase in carjackings

Riders who set up an Uber account using anonymous payment methods will now have to upload a form of identification before booking a ride.

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Members of The Independent Drivers Guild Chicago gathered in protest in front of Uber’s Greenlight Hub, at 1401 W North Ave. last Friday.

Members of The Independent Drivers Guild Chicago gathered in protest in front of Uber’s Greenlight Hub, at 1401 W North Ave. earlier this month.

Zinya Salfiti / Chicago Sun-Times

Responding to a surge in carjackings, Uber on Friday launched a new rider verification program.

Riders who set up an Uber account using anonymous payment methods — such as prepaid debit cards, gift cards or Venmo — now must also upload a drivers license, state ID or passport before booking a ride. The ID they upload will be checked for validity.

Carjackings were way up in 2020, and there have been some high-profile incidents of ride-hailing drivers being targeted. Anonymous payment methods are often linked with those crimes, because they allow people to mask their identities.

“We believe this new feature will help hold riders using anonymous forms of payment accountable. We continue to pioneer new technologies to improve safety on Uber and give drivers peace of mind as they serve their communities,” an Uber spokeswoman said.

Uber is the first U.S. ride-hailing company to install this rider verification feature.

Bryant Greening, co-founder of the LegalRideshare law firm, called it “a major step toward driver safety” and “a clear indication that drivers voices are loud and that their demands must be heard.”

Kimberly Ziyavo, of the Independent Drivers Guild Chicago, helped organize a protest at Uber’s Greenlight Hub earlier this month after the murder of Uber driver Javier Ramos by a passenger. Ziyavo hopes Lyft follows suit.

She said her group has tried to highlight the fact that “we have all these riders getting into our cars that we don’t know — and even the companies don’t know — who they really are. ... It’s a great start to eliminate some of the anonymous riders, but we would also like to see all accounts verified.”

Kevin Nelson, another member of the drivers’ group, said the group isn’t done seeking changes to make drivers safer.

“We’re celebrating the moment, but we have to keep in mind that the ID verification part was actually only one of the several different demands we had in place. We have to continue to push for those and … continue to provide better and ever-increasing services to the driver community.”

The group’s demands include requiring passengers to take a “selfie” when they book a ride and installing voice-activated panic buttons drivers can use to call police.

Uber has a “Safety ToolKit” in-app emergency feature in place and recently added a 911 feature that sends the location, license plate and car model to a dispatcher if a driver or rider taps the button. But Ziyavo said a voice-activated button is easier to use if a driver is being attacked.

“If you’re the driver and your passenger is sitting behind you and threatening you or trying to assault you, you’re not going to be free to tap a button on your phone right in front of them,” Ziyavo said.

An Uber spokeswoman said the company has helped law enforcement agencies investigate carjacking and assault investigations and also has been developing safety information and sending it to their drivers across the country.

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