Uber App Updates Aim to Address Driver and Passenger Concerns

But will these changes do the trick?

Hemant Mishra/Mint

Uber has faced significant criticism about the way it runs its ride-hailing business. From questions about driver wages to concerns over background-check standards, the list of complaints is long. But Uber is rolling out a series of app updates that it hopes will address these issues.

This week, Uber announced both a redesign of its driver app and a new set of passenger safety features. In a blog post, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said the driver-app updates were based on feedback from actual drivers. He admitted that Uber hasn't always taken their input seriously in the past.

"We called drivers 'partners,' but didn't always act it," Khosrowshahi said.

One of the biggest changes is a new "Earnings Tracker," which sits prominently at the top of the screen and allows drivers to quickly see how much they've earned since going online. Uber also streamlined the process of tracking surge pricing and available nearby rides with a new "Status Bar" feature, which can also provide navigation to areas of high activity. The driver rating page has also been redesigned to look more like a social media profile page.

The app updates also emphasize so-called gamification, inducing drivers to do more work by offering the opportunity to earn "badges" and go on "quests." The Verge reports that drivers will want a bonus for completing 20 trips in a certain amount of time, and will collect badges for good feedback from passengers. It's unclear how drivers will react to what seems like just another attempt by Uber to squeeze more revenue out of them.

On the passenger side, Uber is adding safety features and getting more serious about background checks. Passengers will be able to share their trip status with up to five "trusted contacts." These contacts will be notified of each trip (passengers can also specify nighttime trips only) and when the person arrives at their destination. 

A new "911 Assistance" button in the app connects passengers to emergency services with one tap, according to Uber. The company is also partnering with RapidSOS to integrate its app with 911 call centers. A pilot program in Denver will automatically send user data to 911 dispatchers. Uber said it will monitor the pilot and consider further expansion.

Emergency features are important, but passengers would probably prefer not to end up in a dangerous situation in the first place. Uber has faced significant criticism over its background-check policies, but now the company finally seems to be doing something about it. The company will rerun criminal and motor-vehicle checks annually, and said it is investing in technology that will provide immediate notification of new criminal offenses by drivers.