Uber launches mandatory mask verification for some passengers… But how much will this help drivers?

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Those of us who’ve chosen to keep driving during the pandemic are required to wear masks whenever a passenger is in our vehicles. We do this to help stop the spread of COVID-19, as well as to make our passengers feel safe. 

Passengers are also required to wear masks, which is only fair since drivers need to be protected, too. But do all passengers have masks? Do they always keep them on?

Uber says that drivers have the right to refuse a ride if the passenger is without a mask, and the ensuing cancellation won’t affect driver ratings. After the ride is over, drivers can report a passenger for not wearing a mask. 

In both cases, drivers do the reporting and the companies take it from there. They’ll contact the passengers to tell them they know the policy was violated, and that they could lose access to the app if they attempt to ride maskless again.

The reality for drivers is that it’s a burden to be charged with enforcing COVID-19 rules, including the mask policy because people do not always want to comply. Riders can become obnoxious when drivers take steps to cancel the ride because the passenger isn’t wearing a mask, or refuse to allow a passenger to sit in the front seat.

Uber is now taking measures to make drivers feel safer. One action they’ve taken is requiring passengers who have not worn masks in the past to prove they’re wearing one before they can ride again. Let’s take a look at what this does for the average passenger, and driver, by examining:

  • The purpose of passenger mask check selfies
  • The impact of bad ratings on passengers 
  • Whether the new mask check policy helps drivers

The purpose of passenger mask check selfies

If you drive for Uber, you can’t even open your app to be available for rides without first taking a selfie that proves you’re wearing a mask. It’s a pain, but we deal with it. Now that the companies are cracking down on riders, once a passenger has been reported for not wearing a mask, he or she will have to go through the same selfie routine.

That’s right. Uber is, in some sense, punishing riders who have failed to “mask up”. Now, they have to stop, put on the mask, take the selfie, and only then can they get on the app to call for a ride. 

So how does this development make you feel? Do you think you’ll be safer if your customers are forced to do this? How would you feel if you were the passenger? 

One of our drivers took a casual survey of the passengers she had on a busy afternoon, asking how they would feel if they were required to take a masked selfie to prove they were in compliance with the rules. Most thought that would be an invasion of privacy, or would prefer that wearing a mask be left to common sense and sticking to the honor system. 

This new mask verification policy is one example of how passengers wield less power than in the past. We understand why they might feel imposed upon by these new rules, but if they’re worried about their privacy being invaded, it’s too late. They’ve already  given the rideshare app their pictures, as well as a lot of information. 

And now, along with being reported by drivers if they neglect to follow COVID-19 rules, passengers are also learning that they’re be rated by drivers.

The impact of low ratings on passengers

Every driver knows what it means when a passenger gives out a low star rating. Not only can one’s standing with the company take a hit; there’s also the risk of deactivation, depending on the nature of the passenger’s complaint.

Now, the tables are turned. 

Drivers have the ability (and responsibility) to report maskless passengers, and those passengers will learn firsthand how ratings affect their accounts. For the first time, they will know how drivers see them when they’re picked up for a ride.

Until recently, for instance, passengers didn’t realize that drivers could make or break their star rating with a low score exactly as they could do for drivers. And passengers were probably also unaware of the impact of having a low star rating.

The passenger rating is important to drivers because it alerts them about what to expect from the person they’re about to pick up: whether he or she is likely to be polite, obnoxious, or worse, a troublemaker of some kind. Until recently, only drivers (and the companies) could see the passenger ratings; thankfully, that has changed.

Now that passengers’ star ratings are posted in their profiles, riders are finding out what their drivers have said about them. And they often find it shocking. This article in the Sacramento Bee describes some passengers’ reactions to being rated at less than five stars. Of course, they don’t like it very much. Who wants to be told they’re not the perfect rider? Also, they have no way of knowing what they did that got under their driver’s skin.

Of course, people are sensitive about their passenger ratings. So just imagine what being asked to take a selfie to prove they’re wearing a mask might feel like to them. Let’s just say it probably won’t go over very well—but it’s being done anyway.

Does the new mask check policy help drivers?

Let’s give the companies an “E” for effort. They’re trying to get passengers to be courteous enough to help keep drivers safe. However, it doesn’t seem like this will do much to keep passengers from taking off their masks, or allowing the masks to droop down off their faces, if they’re inconsiderate enough to do either.

The companies seem to think it will enhance driver safety. In a September 1, 2020 article in MSN Money, Uber’s Global Head of Safety and Driver Product, Sachin Kansal, stated that he believes it will add another layer of safety, and he hopes this new feature empowers drivers because the company relies on their feedback. “Their feedback can help keep the platform safe for everyone,” said Kansal.

While it’s true that the company takes the driver complaint of an unmasked passenger seriously, it’s unclear how much (or whether) this benefits drivers. Suppose, for example, you drive in a small community. And suppose you have an encounter with that very same customer you reported after the person figured out you’re the driver who ratted on him or her for not wearing a mask. That could result in a confrontation most of us would definitely prefer to avoid.

Drivers might feel more secure if they were assured by the company that, at any point in the future, they will not be paired with the riders they’ve reported. It would be much easier on drivers if enforcement, and possible retribution for reporting someone for non-compliance, didn’t have to land in their laps. 

Although it isn’t perfect, we view the trend toward two-way ratings between drivers and customers in the rideshare and delivery business as a step in the right direction. Now, if we can only figure out a way to get them to tip more and backseat drive less…

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