Uber has been secretly testing an emergency hotline for riders and drivers so they can get help if something goes terribly wrong on a ride, Inc. reports. The secret hotline has been in testing in a pilot program in 22 cities since October, which means it isn’t a direct response to the Kalamazoo shootings committed by an Uber driver in February.
Quartz first revealed the existence of the hotline on February 20th, but it wasn't officially acknowledged by Uber until the company spoke to Inc. this week. As Inc. notes, Uber classifies the hotline as a "Critical Safety Response Line" and by calling the number (1-800-353-UBER) riders will be put in contact with two "centers of excellence" in Chicago and Phoenix, where members of Uber’s Incident Response Teams are available "at all hours."
"We are always looking for ways to improve communication with riders and drivers. In select U.S. cities, we have a pilot program where riders and drivers can call an Uber support representative directly for assistance with an urgent situation after a trip," Uber said in a statement.
Uber stresses that the hotline isn’t meant to be a replacement for 911. Instead it says the hotline should be used in situations that require immediate attention and where sending an email and waiting for a reply might take too long. For example, if a diabetic left their insulin behind in a Uber vehicle.
Uber says it has not explicitly told customers about the hotline because they want to see if riders can find it on their own. Currently the number is available in the app by navigating to a page called "Critical Safety Response Line." Uber also doesn’t want to give the impression that the hotline is something that should be called instead of 911 during a true emergency.
Just last month Ed Davis, a former Boston Police Commissioner who sits on Uber’s safety board, explained that the confusion over whom to contact during an emergency is why Uber doesn’t offer a panic button inside its app in the United States. "You don’t want to confuse people about who they should be notifying. And you particularly don’t want to notify a corporation that is some distance away from the incident that is occurring," Davis said.
Uber is not revealing what 22 cities the hotline is currently being tested in, but confirms that anyone in the U.S. can call it and get through to a member of Uber’s Incident Response Team.