TORONTO — Rideshare and cab companies operating in Canada are retooling their apps and services to help stop the spread of COVID-19 as the economy reopens.

Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc. and Beck Taxi are launching a myriad of measures including masks, limits on numbers of passengers and sanitation reminders to keep drivers and riders safe.

“Things are going to look a little different for both riders and drivers,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, said on a call with international reporters on Wednesday.

“Keeping everyone safe means that everyone must take proper precautions, not only to protect yourself, but to protect your driver and protect the next person who may be getting into the car after.”

He announced that Uber will require Canadian drivers, couriers and passengers to wear masks starting May 18.

The San Francisco-based technology giant said drivers won’t be able to pick up customers until they have verified they are wearing a mask via photo-recognition software built into the Uber app.

They will also have to agree to a series of terms promising that they don’t have COVID-19 symptoms, have disinfected their vehicle and have washed their hands. Drivers and couriers will have access to $50 million worth of masks, hand sanitizers and vehicle disinfectants Uber has purchased for them.

Passengers and drivers will be able to cancel rides if the person operating or entering the vehicle doesn’t wear a mask and if someone removes a mask partway through the trip, and will have an option to notify Uber about the removal when they rate the ride.

“If we see repeated violations by the same person, whether it’s a rider or driver, we may take additional steps including taking them off the platform,” Sachin Kansal, Uber’s head of safety products, said on the call with Khosrowshahi.  

He did not say how many violations might contribute to a removal.

No passengers will be allowed to sit in front seats and no more than three passengers will be allowed in the vehicle for Uber X and XL rides.

When they book a ride, passengers will be advised to wear a mask, sanitize hands before and after a trip, sit in the back seat and open a window if possible.

Uber Eats couriers will be able to notify Uber about restaurants that are not following physical distancing or have a long wait, and restaurants will be able to tell Uber when a courier is not wearing a mask or following protocol.

Rival service Lyft said Wednesday that every Canadian rider and driver will soon be required to self-certify that they will wear a mask throughout their ride, are symptom-free and will follow local health official guidance related to COVID-19.

Anyone who does not agree to those terms will be unable to request a ride or drive with Lyft.

To make following the new policy easy, Lyft is distributing masks to drivers in a handful of markets, including Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.

Lyft did not say when the policy will be enacted or how soon drivers will receive masks.

Meanwhile, Toronto-based Beck Taxi is two weeks into operating its service with COVID-19-inspired measures.

“No more than two adults can travel in a Beck. No one is allowed to sit in the front seat,” operations manager Kristine Hubbard told The Canadian Press in an email.” 

“We are asking if customers are wearing masks so drivers can decide if they are willing to take that risk and we have been distributing reusable masks to drivers.”

Beck Taxi introduced StayHomeDelivery, a flat-fee courier service, in late March to make it easier for people to use its app for contactless delivery of groceries, meals and prescriptions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2020.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

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