Uber South Africa has announced an extensive safety and security improvement; including a new partnership with multiple security response services.
The initiative follows a string of incidents involving Uber drivers and poor customer experiences.
These new partnerships will see security and medical services dispatched in emergency situations in a reduced time, in an effort to improve the safety for driver-partners who use the Uber app.
The new partnership involves an improvement to Uber’s current security number that is already available to all drivers in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. The security number links to a central control room, where now, a geo-specific security or medical response partner can be dispatched within minutes.
This follows the pilot of SOS buttons in Johannesburg from September to December 2016, where 500 driver-partner vehicles were fitted with buttons, that when triggered alerted Uber’s central control room.
“We learned a great deal from the pilot last year, most importantly that the response time needed to be reduced”, says David Myers, Uber head of Trust and Safety, Middle East and Africa. “We are rather focussing on our security number operated by a central control room, and making use of multiple private security companies who are location specific to try reduce the response time and get help to partners quicker than before.”
The substantial difference is that Uber’s previous emergency number put drivers in touch with one dedicated security company that was less localised and did not include medical response.
Uber has now partnered with multiple private security companies because they are geo-specific or suburb specific; this means help will get to driver-partners far quicker than before. Therefore security officers or patrols don’t need to travel from a different suburb to attend to an emergency; they’re covering a smaller area and response times are therefore far quicker.
“In essence, we are connecting drivers with the closest security company in their area. Unfortunately driver-partners have expressed safety concerns, and we are committed to making them feel as safe as possible when using our app. This improvement is a step in the right direction, as we look towards implementing a more technological solution in the future.”
In addition to the benefits of a quicker response rate, calls to the control room will be recorded for possible use by authorities in investigations.
The improved security number and partnership agreement will be launching in Johannesburg and will reach Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth in the coming weeks. By March 2017, all cities in which Uber South Africa operates will support the improved security number.
Samsung unleashes the beast
Most new smartphone releases of the past few years have been like cat-and-mouse games with consumers and each other. It has been as if morsels of cheese are thrown into the box to make it more interesting: a little extra camera here, a little more battery there, and incremental changes to size, speed (more) and weight (less). Each change moves the needle of innovation ever-so-slightly. Until we find ourselves, a few years later, with a handset that is revolutionary compared to six years ago, but an anti-climax relative to six months before.
And then came Samsung. Probably stung by the “incremental improvement” phrase that has become almost a cliché about new Galaxy devices, the Korean giant chose to unleash a beast last week.
The new Galaxy Note 9 is not only the biggest smartphone Samsung has ever released, but one of the biggest flagship handsets that can still be called a phone. With a 6.4” display, it suddenly competes with mini-tablets and gaming consoles, among other devices that had previously faced little contest from handsets.
It offers almost ever cutting edge introduced to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones earlier this year, including the market-leading f1.5 aperture lens, and an f2.4. telephoto lens, each weighing in at 12 Megapixels. The front lens is equally impressive, with an f1.7 aperture – first introduced on the Note 8 as the widest yet on a selfie camera.
So far, so S9. However, the Note range has always been set apart by its S Pen stylus, and each edition has added new features. Born as a mere pen that writes on screens, it evolved through the likes of pressure sensitivity, allowing for artistic expression, and cut-and-paste text with translation-on-the-fly.
(Click here or below to read more about the Samsung Galaxy S Pen stylus) Samsung Galaxy S9 Features)
SA ride permit system ‘broken’
Despite the amendments to the National Land Transport Act, ALON LITS, General Manager, Uber in Sub Saharan Africa, believes that many premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.
The spirit and intention of the amendments to the National Land Transport Act No 5 (NLTA), 2009 put forward by the Ministry of Transport are to be commended. It is especially pleasing that these amendments include ridesharing and e-hailing operators and drivers as legitimate participants in the country’s public transport system, which point to government’s willingness to embrace the changes and innovation taking place in the country’s transport industry.
However, there are aspects of the proposed amendments that are, at best, premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.
Of particular concern are the significant financial penalties that will need to be paid by ridesharing and e-hailing companies whose independent operators are found to be transporting passengers without a legal permit issued by the relevant local authority. These fines can be as high as R100 000 per driver operating without a permit. Apart from being an excessive penalty it is grossly unfair given that a large number of local authorities don’t yet have functioning permit issuing systems and processes in place.
The truth is that the operating permit issuance system in South Africa is effectively broken. The application and issuance processes for operating licenses are fundamentally flawed and subject to extensive delays, sometimes over a year in length. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that it is very difficult for applicants whose permit applications haven’t yet been approved to get reasons for the extensive delays on the issuing of those permits.
Uber has had extensive first-hand experience with the frustratingly slow process of applying for these permits, with drivers often having to wait months and, in some cases more than a year, for their permits.
Sadly, there appears to be no sense of urgency amongst local authorities to prioritise fixing the flawed permit issuing systems and processes or address the large, and growing, backlogs of permit applications. As such, in order for the proposed stringent permit enforcement rules to be effective and fair to all role players, the long-standing issues around permit issuance first need to be addressed. At the very least, before the proposed legislation amendments are implemented, the National Transport Ministry needs to address the following issues:
- Efficient processes and systems must be put in place in all local authorities to allow drivers to easily apply for the operating permits they require
- Service level agreements need to be put in place with local authorities whereby they are required to assess applications and issue permits within the prescribed 60-day period.
- Local authorities need to be given deadlines by which their current permit application backlogs must be addressed to allow for faster processing of new applications once the amendments are promulgated.
If the Transport Ministry implements the proposed legislation amendments before ensuring that these permit issuance challenges are addressed, many drivers will be faced with the difficult choice of either having to operate illegally whilst awaiting their approved permits and risking significant fines and/or arrest, or stopping operations until they receive their permits, thereby losing what is, for many of them, their only source of income.
As such, if the Ministry of Transport is not able to address these particular challenges, it is only reasonable to ask it to reconsider this amendment and delay its implementation until the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure it does not impact negatively on the country’s transport industry. The legislators must have been aware of the challenges of passing such a significant law, as the Amendment Bill allows for the Minister to use his discretion to delay implementation of provisions for up to 5 years.
Fair trade and healthy competition are the cornerstones of any effective and growing economy. However, these clauses (Section 66 (7) and Section 66A) of the NLTA amendment, as well as the proposal that regulators be given authority to define the geographic locations or zones in which vehicles may operate, are contrary to the spirit of both. As a good corporate citizen, Uber is committed to supplementing and enhancing South Africa’s national transport system and contributing positively to the industry. If passed into law without the revisions suggested above, these new amendments will limit our business and many others from playing the supportive roles we all can, and should, in growing the SA transport and tourism industries as well as many other key economic sectors.
What’s more, if passed as they currently stand, the amendments will effectively limit South African consumers from having full access to the range of convenient transport options they deserve; which has the potential to harm the reputation and credibility of the entire transport industry.