Uber will require all drivers and riders to wear masks starting next week

Health, Fitness & Food

The Uber logo displayed on a smartphone on top of surgical masks.

Beata Zawrzel | NurPhoto via Getty Images

Uber is launching a new set of features in its app that will check if drivers are wearing face masks before starting trips.

The move is an attempt from the firm to restore momentum in its core ride-sharing business as countries look to gradually start lifting their coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

Starting May 18, drivers and riders will be required to wear face masks and coverings in an effort to stop the spread of the disease. But unlike riders, drivers will now be required to verify that they’re wearing face masks before accepting a booking. Riders will also be required to sit in the back seat.

The San Francisco-based company, which has been heavily impacted by shelter-in-place measures worldwide, will also invest $50 million to distribute supplies such as masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant to drivers and couriers. Uber is partnering with Clorox in the U.S. and Unilever in Europe to provide the supplies.

“Self-certification is good but sometimes verification is really important,” Sachin Kansal, senior director of product management at Uber, told reporters Wednesday over a Zoom call. “It is one thing for us to issue guidelines and requirements, but sometimes we have to enforcement those requirements.”

Drivers and riders will both have the ability to cancel a trip if either of them aren’t wearing a face covering. Uber said it has already acquired 20 million masks and distributed 5 million of them to drivers.

“Keeping everyone safe means that everyone must take proper precautions not only to protect yourselves but to protect your driver and protect the next person who may be getting into the car after,” CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said on the Zoom call.

Uber and domestic rival Lyft have come under increased pressure to pay drivers benefits such as paid sick leave, with both companies facing a lawsuit in the state of California alleging that they have misclassified their drivers as contractors.

The uncertain status of gig workers has again come into light during the health crisis, as drivers complain of being left without a key source of income that they have come to depend on.

The company attracted headlines Tuesday following reports that it had made an offer to buy food delivery firm Grubhub. Sources confirmed to CNBC that Uber had made the offer, but said the two sides remain at odds on price.

Uber, which recently said it would lay off 14% of its workforce, racked up a huge loss of $2.9 billion in the first quarter. Though gross bookings in its Eats business grew. 

Meanwhile, Uber recently led a $170 million investment in Lime, the electric scooter and bike rentals start-up, which will see it transfer its own bikes and scooters unit Jump as the two companies further integrate their apps.

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