NEW YORK — Ride-share company Uber unveiled several changes Wednesday, including an update that will allow teens under the age of 18 to travel by themselves for the first time.
Teen accounts, announced during the company's annual product showcase, will be available in select cities in the U.S. and Canada starting on May 22, the company said. Uber said they created the teen accounts to make life easier for parents who may need to juggle work while also getting teens to sports practices, mall trips and more.
Only experienced and highly-rated drivers who've done hundreds of trips and have gotten consistently positive feedback will be eligible to give rides to teens, a company spokesperson said. All Uber drivers undergo background checks that cover motor vehicle records and criminal offenses at the local, state and federal levels, the company spokesperson said. Each driver is re-screened annually to monitor for new offenses.
Despite safety screenings, Uber's most recent safety report, which covers 2019 and 2020, shows the company received 3,824 reports across several categories of sexual assault and misconduct, over the time period.
The accounts for teens will have some additional safety features. The teen accounts come with live trip tracking so that parents can monitor a trip's progress, seeing where their teen is and who's behind the wheel, according to the company. Parents will also be able to contact the driver directly during a trip or contact Uber's support team on behalf of their teen.
All the safety options will automatically be turned on for teen accounts and cannot be turned off, the company said. Audio recording for each trip is an option that can also be automatically turned on for each ride.
The accounts will be available in 14 cities, including Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton in Ohio; Dallas, Houston and San Antonio in Texas; Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona, New York City and its suburbs in New York and Atlanta in Georgia.
Teens will be able to take trips that start and end in any city where teen accounts are live. The company plans to roll out teen accounts in additional locations in the future.
Teen accounts will also soon be available for Uber Eats. Parents will be able to keep tabs on what their kids are ordering and spending on the app, according to the company.
While announcing first-quarter results earlier in May, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said that going forward, the company is focused on growth. Uber's gross bookings grew 19% year-over-year in the first quarter.
"Looking ahead, we are focused on extending our product, scale and platform advantages to sustain market-leading top and bottom-line growth beyond 2023," Khosrowshahi said.
Uber has faced criticism in the past for surge pricing and overcharging passengers with disabilities. The company has also faced criticism for underpaying drivers and luring customers away from traditional taxis.