Uber CEO Says Company Wants to Make Rides Safer

Uber Technologies Inc. said it is conducting a review of its safety practices around the world and outlined measures the cab-hailing startup is taking to address concerns about its service.

The company said in a blog post that it is exploring technologies, such as biometric tools for driver screening and a way for riders to instantly reach the company in an emergency. It is also using more polygraph checks and creating safety response teams that can provide immediate support.

Chief Executive and founder Travis Kalanick says his company wants to make rides safer as it pushes into new markets, including China through a tie-up with search company Baidu Inc.

Speaking briefly on the sidelines of a news conference to confirm the deal with Baidu, Mr. Kalanick said that his startup is investing in background checks “everywhere around the world,” including China.

“We can always invest more in safety and make sure we’re bringing way more safety than taxis. I think we’re already there, and the question is how much further can we go?” he said.

“We’re doing hundreds of millions of rides in hundreds of cities around the world,” he said. “But I think also on the other side of it, there needs to be some understanding of just how vast and how broad the operation is.”

Mr. Kalanick’s comments come after an incident earlier this month in which a passenger who used Uber to book a car in New Delhi accused the driver of raping her.

Uber said it suspended operations there while it reviewed its screening processes. Uber said earlier it didn’t conduct background checks on drivers—instead relying on the Indian government to perform verification processes when issuing commercial permits to vehicles.

The company didn’t say when it would implement stricter background checks or whether they would apply to the hundreds of thousands of drivers already on the service.

Uber and Baidu didn’t disclose financial details of the partnership, which includes an investment by Baidu. Uber has said in a filing that it could seek as much as $600 million more from other investors to support its global expansion.

Baidu said it would integrate Uber into its mobile map and search apps, which have more than 240 million and 500 million monthly active users, respectively. Chinese consumers will also be able to download the Uber app in Baidu’s app store, Baidu said.

“When you take into account the hundreds of millions of people who open up Baidu Maps every day—they’re basically saying, ‘Where am I going to next?’ ” Mr. Kalanick said.

Uber launched in China in February, beginning in Shanghai before expanding to a total of nine cities including Beijing and Guangzhou. Mr. Kalanick said Uber has worked well in these Chinese cities and that there weren’t any “pressing regulatory issues.”

However, Uber faces an uphill battle in China because of intense competition from homegrown taxi-hailing apps such as Didi Dache and Kuaidi Dache, backed respectively by Chinese Internet companies Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Uber also has to deal with heavily regulated taxi fares, which are kept low to protect against inflation.

Mr. Kalanick said these dynamics were similar in many other places around the world where Uber operates, but he said Uber can offer consumers more choice, such as a variety of price points for different levels of service.

The company also said in a blog post Wednesday it hired Tim Collins, a 15-year veteran of Amazon.com Inc., to run customer support.

Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-ceo-says-...