2020 Feb 27
Two passengers attacked by a knife-wielding driver while travelling from Mirihana to Colombo 3 were one of several recent incidents that raised concerns on the safety of using ride-hailing apps in Sri Lanka. This chilling tale, amongst many other complaints, has become a dreaded scenario for customers of any ride-hailing app in the country. Two of Sri Lanka’s most popular ride-hailing apps, Uber and PickMe, have unveiled a number of safety measures to protect customers and ensure that they are able to ride safely from their pick up to drop-off locations. Uber’s in-app safety features helps customers stay connected and feel protected when they ride. The safety toolkit carries three options: Emergency Assistance, Share My Trip and a Safety Center.
The Emergency Assistance feature immediately connects the customer with local emergency services and shares his or her current location directly from the app. The ‘Share My Trip’ feature allows customers to share their location with selected trusted contacts to let loved ones know where you are. Trusted Contacts can be pre-selected on the app and reminders can be set to share the ride with them immediately after you book a ride. Uber also has a two-way rating feature where all ratings are logged, including low-rating trips ,where users may be removed. The company also announced the launch of two new safety features: Two-way Phone Anonymisation and Driving Hour Limits. The new features were introduced as part of Uber’s ‘Safety Never Stops’ campaign in Colombo. The two-way phone anonymisation feature is a new technology that improves the way drivers and riders connect and communicate with each other before the trip. With this feature, when a rider and driver contact each other over a trip, both phone numbers will be anonymous thereby ensuring that either party is not privy to the other’s personal contact details. The feature introduced following multiple complaints concerning unwanted post-trip contact.
The second safety tool featuring a limit on the number of hours that drivers spend on the app is a precautionary measure taken by Uber to ensure that drivers are not fatigued and thereby eliminates the risk of unsafe driving. The app prompts drivers to go offline for six straight hours for every twelve hours that they have driven. The PickMe app also takes a number of safety precautions to guarantee a safe ride from start to finish. The Driver Partners at PickMe undergo rigorous training. During this training period, they are immersed in motivational and behavioural training and a device training that provides them with an in-depth understanding on the workings of the app. PickMe also offers an easy to access red SOS button on their home screen while a trip is ongoing so that customers can immediately get connected to local emergency hotlines such as 119 (24/7 emergency hotline) 1990 (Ambulance), 110 (Fire service) or 1331 (PickMe Help Center) as well as any of the customer’s trusted emergency contacts that have to be added in advance into the app. The numbers can also be accessed in the emergency tab on the left side of the app. Users of ride-hailing apps are encouraged to make use of the options available to them such as the features mentioned above, in addition to taking other safety measures of their own.
Here’s how to make sure that you are at the right tuk-tuk or car for your next ride.
Before You Get In the Car or Tuk
- Familiarise yourself with the app. Most ride-hailing apps today come with safety tools that help customers ride safely and hassle-free. Familiarising yourself with the app and its respective safety options would help in the case of an emergency.
- Check the driver’s rating. If the driver has a really low-rating, it usually means that they have multiple bad reviews by previous customers. If you feel unsure or unsafe, you can cancel the trip before too much time lapses and request for a new ride.
- Refrain from sharing personal information. This safety measure applies for both before, during and after the ride. Users are able to request for a ride and contact the driver entirely through in-app features. If you are asked for your personal number or any other compromising information, refrain from sending them or cancel the ride immediately.
- Make sure your phone is sufficiently charged. Running the risk of a dead battery in the middle of confirming or waiting for a ride at a pick-up location not only carries the possibility of getting into the wrong tuk or car, but also puts you in a dangerous spot in the case of an emergency once you board the ride. Since some phones have a limited battery life, it is wise to invest in a power bank or portable charger.
- Stay inside until the driver arrives. Lingering outside while waiting outside may encourage thieves or other ride-hailing app drivers into deceiving you into thinking that they are your ride. If you are unable to stay inside, try to wait in an area that is well-lit and not isolated.
During the Ride
- Verify the vehicle. Check if the number plate, name and profile picture of the drivers corresponds with the information available to you on your phone.
- Avoid sitting in the front seat. Previous complaints lodged with regard to assaults and unsolicited acts by drivers in cars were received by customers who were seated on the front seat. Choosing the back seat not only reduces the risk of assaults, unwanted behaviour and groping but also helps you exit the vehicle if such an incident occurs.
- Buckle up. In the event in which you are travelling with a group, it is not always possible to get the back seat. Don’t forget to wear your seatbelt when sitting in the front seat.
- Follow GPS. Make sure that your driver follows the directions on the app and that they do not divert from the correct route to your destination. As an extra precaution and in the event where the GPS screen used by the driver is not visible to you, it is advisable to use the GPS on your own device to ensure that the driver is always on the right path.
- Remain alert and travel in groups. Many customers use ride-hailing apps after a night out or following a tiring day. Safety advocates point to the importance of avoiding travelling alone if you are too impaired to protect yourself. Try to avoid falling asleep or zoning out to music or text messaging.
- Share your ride. Share your location with a trusted contact so that they can track where you are and know your ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival). This feature is readily available as an in-app service on both PickMe and Uber.
- Trust your gut. If you sense that something is not right or you feel uncomfortable, request to get off at the next safest location (i.e. the driver seems like they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, looks sleepy, exhibits unwanted behaviour, etc.) If the driver refuses to do so, call 119 or any other emergency hotline immediately.
What to do in case of an accident
Drivers are usually instructed to ensure that all parties involved are safe and to call the police and paramedics immediately after an accident. Contact the relevant company in charge of the app and let them know about the accident at the earliest possible time. If your driver is incapacitated, the responsibility to call emergency services may fall on you. Contact 1990 (Ambulance) or 119 (Police) immediately. Even if you feel that you have not been hurt, it is advisable for you to seek medical attention anyway.
If you feel that you or a fellow passenger is in danger, request to get off the vehicle at the next safest location and report the incident to the app and relevant authorities. If the driver refuses to stop, contact emergency services through the in-app facility immediately.
Save these numbers in your mobile as an extra precaution.
Police Emergency Hotline – 118 or 119Ambulance / Fire and Rescue – 110
Accident Service- General Hospital Colombo – 011-2691111
Tourist Police – 011-2421052
Police Emergency – 011-2433333
Government Information Center – 1919
Report Crimes – 011-2691500