Previously, the three methods of communicating with your Uber driver were SMS texting, in-app chat, and a traditional cell call. Yesterday at a conference in San Francisco, Uber added a fourth method of communication. You can now contact your Uber driver via a new in-app VoIP feature.
This is a win-win for everyone. We have all been in the car while an Uber driver was navigating busy traffic, trying to pay attention to mapping directions, and juggling a personal smartphone. That is not a comfortable scenario for anyone. Taking the cell phone out of the equation is a victory.
There is also the matter of privacy in both directions. Your driver doesn’t want you to have her personal contact information any more than you want your driver to have yours. Eliminating personal cell phones from the mix and keeping it all in-app is a win for privacy.
The Verge discusses another advantage.
“Currently, Uber offers three ways for drivers and riders to communicate: SMS text messages, in-app chats, and public switched telephone networks. Uber became interested in VoIP as it expanded globally and found that, in many countries, data calling is cheaper than cellular calls. For people traveling abroad, the ability to communicate with a driver using an internet connection is significantly less expensive than a roaming call.
‘Data calling is now much cheaper than voice calling’ in certain markets,’ said Gagan Mac, product manager for communications at Uber. ‘Data is much cheaper.'”
VoIP calls are included in your data plan when traveling abroad. Depending on where you are, calls over the cellular network can be prohibitively expensive and unreliable. Reliable voice communication with your driver can be the difference between getting a ride and finding another way to get to your destination.
Uber has been trialing this feature since June. They are now confident enough to roll it out worldwide. This is another indication of Uber’s commitment as a global transportation entity.
This move could be seen as a way of addressing some of the negative issues around passenger safety. Earlier this year, CNN Money reported a staggering 103 Uber drivers in the US had been accused of sexual assault or abuse. Some of the incidents were caught on camera.
The new VoIP feature does not directly address these issues. But it could be perceived as a small step in the direction of taking passenger privacy and safety a little more seriously.