Uber launches service for 13- to 17-year-olds in South Africa

Uber sub-Saharan Africa GM Kagiso Khaole

Uber sub-Saharan Africa GM Kagiso Khaole

11th April 2024

By: Schalk Burger

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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Digital mobility services company Uber has launched Uber Teen accounts in South Africa, which will enable youths aged 13 to 17 to hail rides, while their trips can be monitored and tracked with a suite of safety and security systems, Uber sub-Saharan Africa GM Kagiso Khaole announced on April 11.

The solution is linked to parents and guardians' Uber profiles and enables guardians to monitor every stage of the trip. All of Uber's safety and security solutions are employed, including automated audio recording, trip tracking, location-based security response and artificial intelligence systems that monitor for deviations from routes and lengthy stops.

Only highly rated, experienced drivers who have passed local screening and background check requirements will be able to receive trip requests from teen account holders. Guardians can also call drivers directly at any time, and Uber Teen drivers cannot change the destination of the trip.

“Uber Teen accounts are built with transparency in mind so that there are no surprises for parents, teens or drivers. Parents will receive real-time notifications and can follow along with live trip tracking every step of the way.

“We are committed to helping keep teens safe and getting families moving. Our design philosophy is to design for the most vulnerable users and thereby we enhance the safety of all users,” he told media at the company's offices in Sandton.

Safety is embedded into the solution and all of the company's safety features are permanently enabled on Uber Teen trips.

Further, before a teen gets in the car for a trip, they will be prompted to give their driver a unique personal identification number, or pin. Drivers will not be able to start the trip until they enter the correct code into their application, thereby providing an extra layer of protection to ensure teens get into the right car with the right driver.

In addition to the live trip tracking, the service also uses RideCheck, which uses sensors and Global Positioning System (GPS) data to detect if a ride goes off course, stops unexpectedly or ends early.

If something like this happened, the Uber app would message the teen and the driver to make sure they were safe. RideCheck would be adjusted to be more sensitive during teens' trips, Khaole said.

The audio recordings are encrypted to ensure drivers, riders, parents and Uber are unable to listen to the recordings. The recordings are only decrypted if an incident is reported.

There would be no difference in prices for Uber Teen trips compared with those for adults. Guardians could also set spending limits for Uber Teen accounts, he noted.

Uber Teen accounts will be available in all cities and towns in South Africa that the company operates in.

While only highly rated and experienced drivers could opt-in to do Uber Teen trips, drivers could also choose to opt-out of receiving teen trips at any time, he added.

“To improve the safety of drivers, we have been piloting enhanced rider verification over the past eight months. We started with a small cohort and identified high-risk accounts that were forced to go through a verification process. We used this to stress-test the system.

“The results of the pilot are positive, and we will expand this across our operations in South Africa. In future, when setting up an account, a user will be asked to verify their identity through an identity document, passport or driver's licence,” said Khaole.

This means that, in the event of an incident, the company is able to know that there is a real person that is identifiable behind the account, even if the person requested a ride for another person.

“We want to ensure the safety of our drivers, including our female drivers who constitute about 10% of our drivers. We are looking to increase this number, but the rider verification will improve safety for all our drivers," he said.

Additionally, this feature would not impact the driver's earnings, but make the platform safer for everyone, he added.

“Safety is a big pain point for drivers and one of the things that is top of mind for them. If the driver cannot make money, then we lose one of the three pillars of our service. This drove us to find better ways to verify riders," he emphasised.

“Safety is a feature and helps to drive our innovations. While the solution is bespoke to South Africa, local innovations are exported to the rest of the globe, and there is interest from Latin America to deploy similar safety solutions," Khaole said.

Uber has more than 250 000 users in South Africa and safety is one of the value propositions of the business, he said.

“The new Uber Teen service leverages the safety of the platform to deliver a new experience for a new group of riders," he noted.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online



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