SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The experience of taking an Uber is about to change.
Starting Monday, Uber drivers are required to take selfies in the app to verify that they are wearing a mask or face covering before they are able to pick up passengers.
That's just one part of an interactive checklist drivers will have to complete each time they go online to accept rides. Other requirements include drivers confirming they don't have symptoms and are sanitizing their vehicle regularly and washing their hands.
Throughout the pandemic, local Uber drivers have experienced a drop in demand with fewer people wandering around in Downtown Santa Barbara.
"The pandemic has been very much a problem for everybody,” Uber driver Ildefonso Hernandez said.
"Been really slow,” Uber driver Elizabeth Romero said. “Just people not going out doing anything anymore, just staying home."
Uber has a Real-Time ID Check, an in-app feature which has been available for years and prompts drivers to take selfies to compare biometric information to verify their identity. In some cases, drivers will be asked to take a selfie without a mask, followed by a mask selfie.
"You just have to take a picture of you wearing the mask and it does it every so often to make sure you're doing it,” Romero said.
Uber, which is no longer running its carpooling service "Uber Pool" globally, is also adding other precautions.
"I think the new policy is the least that Uber can do right now,” Santa Barbara resident Adam Eidelson said. “I mean the protocol should have been done a few months ago if not a few weeks ago."
On UberX, Uber's standard service, it is reducing the number of people allowed in a vehicle, from four passengers to three.
After riders confirm they are wearing a mask, they will also see recommendations to avoid sitting in the front seat and to open windows for ventilation.
"Taking those safety precautions, it's better for them to put those in place just to take action and limit the virus spreading,” Uber rider Julia Ehrlich said.
Local drivers hope that these new safety measures will ignite more requests for rides.
"Today has been pretty busy and usually Mondays are pretty quiet,” Romero concluded. “So I think it's starting to pick up a little bit."
The company also said it has allocated $50 million to purchasing supplies such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant sprays and wipes for drivers.