What will be the impact of Lyft's new safety measures?

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Lyft rolls out new safety measures; changes to Starbucks Rewards loyalty program

Morning Business Outlook: Ride-sharing company Lyft says new driver background checks will now be continuous; Starbucks is changing its rewards loyalty program, allowing members to earn rewards points sooner and use those points to get more free items in return.

Lyft is trying to make your trip safer.

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The ridesharing giant announced three measures designed to improve passenger check-in needs, emergency assistance and sexual-violence prevention education.

But will adding a few new features to its mobile app really keep commuters safe?

Sarah Enelow-Snyder, an editor who covers diversity and inclusion at travel news and research website Skift, says it's possible: “Lyft's safety improvements are positive ones, but the question is are they enough,” she told Fox Business. “Some of them, for example having 911 at the ready, have been standard practice among solo female travelers for ages.

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“We'll have to see how the new measures realistically affect Lyft.”

Ridesharing services, which became popular in the late 2000s, have long had safety challenges. Despite the background check major platforms require, along with proof of insurance, registration and car inspection, bad actors have slipped through the cracks and made it as drivers for Lyft, Uber and other services.

Last month, seven women filed sexual-assault lawsuits against Lyft, claiming they were raped or assaulted by drivers. And a 2018 report revealed a whopping 103 U.S. Uber drivers were accused of assaulting or abusing passengers in the past four years.

Lyft President and Co-Founder John Zimmer, in his blog post announcing the measures, points to specific classes of people being more prone to crime than others as a reason for ridesharing violence: “The reality is that certain populations carry a disproportionate burden simply trying to get to work or back home after a night out — in the U.S., one in six women will face some form of sexual violence in their lives,” he said.

But added, “The onus is on all of us to learn from any incident, whether it occurs on our platform or not, and then work to help prevent them.”

The platform is expanding its Community Safety Program to do that. It is tweaking its trip check-in feature to predict if someone needs help. If a ride has unexplained delays, the company will reach out to both the rider and driver to ask if they need support, and if necessary, request emergency assistance. Rival Uber has a similar feature, which allows users to request assistance and allows friends to track the trip on their smartphones.

Lyft’s new trip check-in feature will roll out later this year.

Next, the company is allowing users to contact 911 from the app: “Emergency assistance — available to all users today — prominently displays current location and vehicle information, including the license plate. This makes it easy to inform dispatchers if needed.”

And the platform is making a push to educate people and “hold them accountable.” In a partnership with anti-sexual violence organization RAINN, Lyft will require all drivers to complete mandatory training and remove those who violate safety guidelines.

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That requirement kicks off this fall, the company said, and builds off already existing safety policies (which competitors like Uber also have) including criminal monitoring; license and photo verification; route location sharing; two-way ratings; and anti-fraud measures.

“Safety is the cornerstone of all healthy communities, and it’s one of the key values Lyft was founded on,” Zimmer said. “We don’t take lightly any instances where someone’s safety is compromised. We’re committed to playing a significant role in connecting our communities with transportation, and we understand the responsibilities that come along with that.”

It’s worth noting, though, Skift's Enelow-Snyder said, that making the service safer for women and others prone to crime might be a good way to build a foundation of security that trickles down to everyone: "Male-dominated tech companies like Lyft and Uber are often slow to consider women's issues because there's a dearth of women in leadership. Increasing gender diversity … is a crucial part of an effort like this.”

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