Under-fire Uber ramps up rider safety

Uber is ramping up driver background checks and other security measures worldwide after the smartphone-focused car-sharing service was banned in New Delhi following the alleged rape of a passenger.

The incident earlier this month in the Indian capital was one of a string of setbacks for the popular but controversial San Francisco-based start-up -- valued at $40 billion -- which lets customers hail and pay for taxis or private vehicles via a smartphone app.

"We believe deeply that, alongside our driver partners, we have built the safest transportation option in 260 cities around the world," Uber head of global safety Philip Cardenas said Wednesday in a blog post.

"But we have more work to do, and we will do it."

Uber, which says it tracks every journey by GPS, is developing a safety "roadmap" that includes voice recognition to verify drivers` identities and provides ways for riders to instantly contact the company or loved ones in emergencies.

Uber goes by local regulations when doing background checks of drivers, but is working on making the system better in places where the checks are tricky or untenable.

"This is of deep concern to us," said Cardenas.

"We are finding solutions in many places that range from polygraph exams that fill gaps in available data to adding our own processes on top of existing screening for commercial licenses -- which is what we are undertaking in India."

Uber also promised steps to improve customer support, including responses to trouble.

New Delhi last week extended a ban on Uber to all web-based taxi services in the Indian capital.

The city government announced that it was banning Uber with immediate effect after a young female passenger accused the driver of raping her.

Indian police said Uber did not conduct a background check on the driver, who was working for the company while on bail on multiple charges including assault, robbery and rape.

Uber`s rapid growth has caused tensions, especially with rival taxi companies which protest that Uber cars are not subject to the same regulations.

The company set up its India operation in September 2013.

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