'We wanted to keep people safe, supported and informed': How the pandemic has changed Uber for passengers and drivers

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This article is sponsored by Uber. Read more here  »

In September, Uber released their first Movement Index report, which noted that, when compared to the lowest point of engagement during the pandemic, the frequency of trips have recovered by about 77% (excluding Melbourne). In fact, in some places, the frequency in which people are using Uber is almost the same as it was pre-COVID.

While the frequency of customers using Uber is returning to pre-pandemic numbers, this increase of use isn’t something that happens overnight. While listening to the concerns of their driver partners and riders, the company was able to enact a well-crafted response plan that was designed to maintain the safety and quality of life of both groups.

To better understand how COVID has affected Uber, along with the measures taken by the rideshare service to protect both drivers and riders, we spoke with the company’s Head of Driver in Australia and New Zealand, Amanda Gilmore.

How has COVID impacted the use of Uber?

“If you opened the Uber app in March and April, you would’ve received a message asking you to stay at home and travel only if necessary,” Gilmore explained, “For a company that helps move millions of people, it’s an odd thing to ask people not to move.”

Gilmore noted that the total number of trips on the weekend following the release of this message had decreased considerably, dropping by nearly half compared to the week before. However, as more and more cities have reopened and a sense of normalcy has re-entered day-to-day life, the use of Uber has increased. Peak hours on Friday and Saturday nights are almost back to what they were this time last year.

What was Uber’s response to COVID?

“We wanted to keep people safe, supported and informed. Those were our guiding principles,” Gilmore tells us while discussing how Uber has changed during this period. “What drivers were telling us was they were concerned about community safety and contact with riders, and they wanted clear direction on what to do and not do.”

“Providing that support and peace of mind for driver and delivery partners was the most important thing we could do.”

Uber has implemented a few new rules and restrictions for rides. Currently, riders aren’t allowed to sit in the front seat of any Uber vehicle, while the total number of passengers in any given ride has also been limited – Comfort and Premier trips can have a maximum of three riders, XL trips can have five. Drivers are also able to cancel a trip if they’re concerned for their safety, or if riders aren’t willing to adhere to the restricted passenger total.

Due to the lack of anonymity on behalf of both the drivers and riders, along with every trip being tracked by GPS, Uber has been able to work with public health agencies to perform contact tracing. To help minimise the spread of the virus, Uber has been temporarily suspending the accounts of anyone who has tested positive for COVID or been exposed to it in some way.

For driver partner Bruna Romano, Uber’s response has been a welcome approach. “Uber [has] communicated well with both drivers and riders throughout the pandemic,” Romano explains. “From helping our community stay safe by providing Dettol sanitisers for all drivers at no extra cost, to running surveys with drivers to ensure that our feedback is heard and considered. It shows that the driver’s voice is important to the company.”

Alongside providing drivers with these free sanitisation kits, Uber has distributed up to 1.6 million single-use face masks to drivers and delivery partners in New South Wales and Victoria, since July. The rideshare company has also reimbursed drivers for any masks, disinfectants and sanitisers they’ve purchased out of pocket.

To help make sure drivers and riders are adhering to a new standard of cleanliness, Uber has provided video guides detailing proper cleaning and sanitisation methods.The company has also recommended that NSW-based riders should wear a face mask or face covering when using the service (wearing a mask or face covering is currently mandatory in Melbourne).

How have Uber addressed the uncertainty of available work?

According to Gilmore, Uber was the first rideshare and online food delivery platform to announce a COVID-19 financial assistance package for drivers and delivery partners. Put into effect in early March, this package was designed to compensate any drivers and delivery partners who were diagnosed with the disease, or those who were placed into self-isolation to prevent transmission, for a period of up to 14 days. By doing this, drivers were able to be protected financially, while minimising the pressure that they had to keep driving even if they were unwell.

“We’re also letting [drivers] know when and where trips are happening in their city so they can make a choice about if, when and where they want to drive,” Gilmore notes in regards to the potential unpredictability of available rides, “I’ve had really great feedback from drivers on getting that level of detail and information – especially when so much else in the world is uncertain!”

What were some of the most important insights gained from drivers?

“We know that driver partners value the freedom of being their own boss,” Gilmore explains, “but when a global pandemic hits, they really appreciated that we had their back in lots of ways.”

Maintaining improved support and benefits has been well-received by drivers and delivery partners. Providing hygiene kits and guides for proper sanitisation methods have not gone unappreciated, while the financial assistance package has allowed them to alleviate a degree of stress or pressure in these uncertain times. Gilmore explains that the reasons and frequency in which drivers work for the platform varies from driver to driver – only 6% of drivers drive more than 40 hours per week, while 8% drive between 30 and 40 hours per week – but maintaining their individual well-being, regardless of circumstances, was a top priority for the company.

Allowing drivers to maintain the freedom that’s inherent in their role with Uber, while still being supported by the company with no expense to their job security, is something that Gilmore continues to strive for: “We want to continue to offer a better experience, with more support and benefits through our app for driver and delivery partners across Australia.”

Uber is also currently advocating for governments to alter minimum insurance standards across the gig economy industry, which will provide drivers with additional support while maintaining the flexibility of their role.

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