Ride-hailing firm Uber SA has collaborated with AURA, a local on-demand smart emergency response app, to beef up security for riders and drivers of the e-taxi service.
The collaboration comes amid mounting calls for stricter safety protocols in SA’s e-hailing industry. Since inception; the industry has been tainted by violence and incidents of attacks by metered taxi drivers and criminals, and in some instances, vehicles being set alight.
Earlier this month, e-hailing driver Abongile Mafalala died after he was brutally beaten and set alight by a group of people in Parkwood, Cape Town.
Through the new collaboration, Uber is looking to provide drivers and riders on its platform with access to a vetted private security response unit, which is closest to their location, when a medical or safety emergency occurs.
AURA is a security and medical response marketplace which gathers and centralises data from over 170 private security companies, before applying artificial intelligence (AI) to dispatch the closest response vehicle to its over 250 000 active users.
The AURA platform is connected to a device. It uses machine learning and AI to draw on the widespread power of private security companies and to hone its system to ensure the closest responders are dispatched to a distress call.
The web and mobile app was born out of the need for more efficiency within the South African security industry, in order to combat the growing crime rate, according to AURA.
“A proactive approach is what is needed to deal with these challenges,” says Kagiso Khaole, head of mobility operations at Uber Sub-Saharan Africa.
“To help safeguard users on the platform, Uber uses technology-led security solutions like AURA, and continues to innovate and collaborate with law enforcement, tech companies and members of the public to stay a step ahead of sophisticated crime.”
Over the last few years, ride-hailing services in SA have gained popularity, with more customers ditching their private or public modes of transport due to mobility-sharing advantages such as convenience, reduced travel costs, less traffic congestion and lower emissions.
However, the industry is plagued by several challenges, including safety issues, the lack of regulation and drivers crying foul over low wages. The past few years have seen e-hailing drivers and operators holding nationwide protests across all provinces, urging government to intervene by regulating the industry.
In 2017, Uber partnered with South African Police Service teams and the National Hijack Prevention Academy to introduce driver safety workshops across SA.
The workshops followed Uber's rollout of a number of safety features on the app for driver-partners, such as Driver Share My Trip, a feature which allows drivers to share their whereabouts and trip status with friends and family; and Social Connect, which requires new cash riders to link to a social media page to help verify their identity when signing up.
According to AURA, there are an estimated 7 000 private security response vehicles in SA that only service 2% of the population. On top of that, these vehicles are only in service 5% of the time.
The company says its response times are reduced because security companies are aggregated and dispatched from one source, with a bird’s-eye view of the situation. Response times drop from an average of 30 minutes to as low as one to five minutes.
“By simply tapping the shield icon on the map in the Uber app, AURA connects a user to the nearest private armed or medical responder in the same way that Uber pairs riders with drivers,” says Warren Myers, AURA co-founder and CEO.
Uber app users are also empowered to guard their safety with Uber’s in-app Safety Toolkit, which has a number of safety features.