Uber adds new safety features in the UK as another decision on its London license nears

Key Points
  • Uber is launching a handful of new safety-focused features in the U.K.
  • One is a tool that lets users flag any discriminatory behavior they experience during a journey.
  • London's transport regulator is due to decide whether to grant Uber another license by Nov. 25.
A smartphone displaying the Uber app in London.
Oli Scarff | Getty Images

Uber has introduced some new safety-focused features in Britain — including one that lets users flag discriminative behavior — as it awaits a decision from London's transport regulator on whether it can continue operating in the city.

Among the new tools the company is launching is one called "RideCheck," which sends out an alert when its GPS data indicates a potential crash, or if a ride appears to be taking too long. That message would then direct a user to a tool that lets them contact the emergency services.

Another is a button a user can press — whether they're a rider or driver — to report any discriminatory behavior they experience during a journey. If Uber finds evidence that someone has committed discrimination against a rider or driver on the basis of race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, the offending user would get booted off the platform.

Lastly, the company is partnering with Britain's AA motoring association on an online video course to teach drivers about driving safely. The scheme will be compulsory for all new drivers as part of the onboarding process, but optional for motorists who are already driving for Uber.

"There is nothing more important than the safety of our customers and the cities we serve," Jamie Heywood, Uber's head of Northern and Eastern Europe, said in a statement. "We are using our technology and partnering with the AA to raise the bar on safety, but we won't stop there because when it comes to safety on our platform, our work is never done."

The announcement comes just a matter of weeks before Uber is due to hear from Transport for London (TfL) on whether it will renew the company's license to operate in the U.K. capital. TfL made the surprise decision in September to grant the ride-hailing giant only a two-month license, rather than a maximum five-year term.

When TfL declined to renew Uber's license back in 2017, the watchdog raised concerns about the company's approach to public safety and security, particularly when it came to reporting criminal offenses and background checks on drivers. A judge subsequently granted the firm a temporary 15-month license after it made some changes to its business model.

The next deadline for TfL's judgment on whether to grant Uber a license is Nov. 25.

Uber, whose arrival in London seven years ago put significant strain on the local black cab industry, now faces increasing competition from a number of new entrants including Estonia's Bolt and France's Kapten. Indian rival Ola, which was granted a license from TfL in July, plans to roll out in London before the end of the year.