Uber has an emergency phone number for passengers and drivers to get in touch with a human employee at the ride-hail company, according to a report from Inc, published on Thursday. The number has been operational since October, is only available in 22 cities and is only intended for non-911 related emergencies. This revelation was made when Uber had been confronted about a “panic button” in the wake of a deadly shooting in Kalamazoo, Michigan, by an Uber driver last month.
Uber has these panic buttons in countries like India, however, it still insists that 911 should still be used as the primary contact in case of emergencies. After Kalamazoo, the company took the unusual step of holding a conference call with reporters to explain this decision. “In the United States, 911 is the panic button and it’s the panic button that we want people to use,” Joe Sullivan, Uber’s head of security, told reporters. “It’s the panic button that law enforcement wants people to use. And we don’t want to try and replace that.“.
As for the naming of this feature, Uber is not calling this a panic button, instead, it prefers to call it “Critical Safety Response Line.“.
The number (800-353-8237 or 800-353-UBER) was first reported in Quartz, which found it buried several links deep in the app. However, when Inc. followed up, an Uber representative said there was no emergency contact, and had later retreated back from the statement. The hotline was kept under the wraps for the most parts, why, we don’t know. The company is explaining this move by saying that it had started to receive calls related to customer support on the number.
It’s unclear whether wider knowledge about the 800 number would have prevented the Kalamazoo shooting that left six dead, as some have suggested. During the rampage, one of the passengers had made a call to 911 reporting erratic driving.