Uber recently pledged to be friendlier to its employees and its drivers. As of Tuesday, it plans to be friendlier to senior citizens, too.
The ride-hailing company launched a feature in more than 30 countries on Tuesday that lets users of the Uber app book a ride for someone other than themselves. Given that many people over the age of 65 either don't use a smartphone or the Uber app, this feature lets their friends and loved ones book rides on their behalf.
While some Uber customers have found ways to book rides for others informally, the new feature is specifically designed to accommodate such requests.
When an Uber customer opens the app and chooses a pick-up address that differs from what their phone's GPS detects as its current location, the app will ask the customer whether they are booking a ride for someone else. Customers can then select a rider from their address book, set a destination and request the ride. Riders will not need to have an Uber account. Uber will then share the passenger's contact details with the driver, and the passenger will receive a link to track the driver's route, as well as a text message with information such as the driver's name and license plate number. The person requesting the ride will also be able to track it within the app.
Previously, drivers could communicate only with the person who booked the ride, and the passengers being picked up had no way of contacting the driver. Rides are charged to the credit card of the person who requested the ride.
Only the person who requested the ride can rate the driver once the ride is over. And when the driver rates the trip, that score goes toward the rating of the person who requested the ride, rather than the passenger.
Both Uber and its competitor Lyft have in the past taken steps to make their apps more accessible to seniors. Uber partnered with Los Angeles firm 24Hr HomeCare and Lyft partnered with GreatCall last year to allow customers to book rides through a phone operator, bypassing the smartphone apps entirely. Customers do not need Uber or Lyft accounts to use those services. The GreatCall service is available only to GreatCall members, while 24Hr HomeCare's "RideWith24" service is available to the public via a toll-free number ( 522-1516).
A third-party service, GoGoGrandparent, lets passengers book an Uber ride and use other on-demand services such as Instacart (grocery delivery), Munchery (dinner delivery) and Postmates (shopping) by dialing a phone number ( 464-6872) and speaking to an operator.
The announcement comes as Uber tries to bounce back from months of scandals and the resignation last week of its chief executive, Travis Kalanick.
9:30 a.m.: This article was updated with information about how trip ratings work.