Uber announced on Sunday that it's taking new steps toward preventing sexual assault and domestic violence, starting with a $US5 million ($6.5 million) donation to its partners - Raliance, National Network to End Domestic Violence, No More, Women of Color Network, Casa de Esperanza, A Call to Men, and The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs - along with an employee training program and in-app messaging to educate riders and drivers.
"As a result of this ongoing collaboration we have begun to make important changes internally and will commit to use Uber's scope and visibility to help drive awareness, education, and prevention of sexual assault and domestic violence to millions globally," said Uber's announcement.
Uber itself has been the subject of numerous sexual assault incidents, with executives grossly mishandling a rape case. An Uber driver in San Antonio was charged with sexual assault after he allegedly raped an unconscious passenger in his car in February. A woman in Chicago is suing Uber after her driver allegedly groped her and sexually harassed her in September. In August, after a woman passed out in an Uber in New York, the driver allegedly drove her back to his apartment and sexually assaulted her. And Uber has also come under fire by the Metropolitan police for failing to report a driver's sexual assault allegation.
Uber wrote on its blog that its technology "enhances safety for riders and drivers in ways that weren't possible before such as GPS tracking, the ability to share a trip with family and friends, and 24/7 support through the app". But the company has failed to adopt measures such as more rigorous driver background checks, despite urging by lawmakers. The ride-sharing service left Austin altogether last year (along with Lyft) because it refused to fingerprint its drivers. Uber has argued that mandated fingerprinting is too burdensome. Advocates for fingerprinting argue that it helps ensure rider safety.
An Uber spokesperson said that fingerprint-backgrounding was not a point of contention between Uber and London regulators, pointing to a post from the Transport for London (TfL). The TfL cites a list of safety and security concerns, which include its approach to reporting serious criminal offences, how medical certificates and Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks are obtained, and how the company explained the use of Greyball, a software tool the company used to circumvent law enforcement officials.
Uber says its $US5 million ($6.5 million) investment will roll out over the next five years. This is undoubtedly a positive step for Uber, but after years of headlines due to sexual assault by its drivers, these efforts feel exceedingly belated. The company, currently worth more than $US60 billion ($78.1 billion), should and could always be doing more. Not just when it desperately needs to clean up its image.