Uber to toughen background checks

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Uber, a ride sharing service, as seen through their iOS app. (courtesy Uber- via CNN)

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Uber, under fire around the globe for how it screens drivers, said it will toughen up its background checks and take other measures to improve passenger safety.

Phillip Cardenas, the head of global safety at Uber, defended the company’s safety record but said there is room for improvement.

“No background check can predict future behavior and no technology can yet fully prevent bad actions,” Cardenase said in a blog post Wednesday. “But our responsibility is to leverage every smart tool at our disposal to set the highest standard in safety we can.”

He said Uber is developing biometric and voice verification to enhance driver screening, and building ways for passengers to communicate with the company immediately in case of emergency. It will also start working with partners with expertise in issues like women’s safety, conflict resolution and road safety to provide additional training to the company, he said.

The company’s existing screening measures have resulted in tens of thousands of potential drivers around the world being denied the chance to drive for the company, he said.

But a series of recent issues has put the company in the spotlight.

On Wednesday, an Uber driver from Boston was charged with rape, kidnapping and assault for an alleged Dec. 6 attack on a woman who had used Uber to call for a ride. Uber spokesman Kaitlin Durkosh described the attack as “a despicable crime” and said the company was working with police and prosecutors on the case.

District attorneys in San Francisco and Los Angeles counties recently sued Uber for allegedly misrepresenting the extent to which it screens its drivers.

The ride sharing service also was shut down in New Delhi after an Uber passenger there said she was raped by a driver. The Indian federal government has also warned other states in the country not to allow Uber to expand there.

“We are reminded by the recent tragic event in India that best-in-class safety must be a constant quest,” Cardenase wrote, referring to that incident.

Cardenas says there is a problem doing background checks in many places outside the United States and that is taking additional measures, including polygraph tests, in those places, including India.

Uber has been growing rapidly and is now in 260 cities worldwide. It is considered one of the most valuable private companies.

But critics, including traditional taxi services, argue that Uber does not comply with the same level of screening required of taxi drivers. Published reports say that Uber has lobbied against legislation in several states that would have imposed tougher screening requirements.