This story has been updated.
One of the most bizarre details emerging from the investigation into a bloody shooting spree allegedly carried out by Uber driver Jason Brian Dalton in Kalamazoo, Mich., is that he may have picked up passengers just before -- and in the middle of -- his deadly rampage.
A few people have told The Post as well as other media outlets that they endured frightening rides in Dalton's car Saturday, the day of the shooting. They described him sideswiping cars and driving over medians. In fact, one man called police and reached out to Uber on Saturday after a ride around 4:30 p.m., an hour and a half before the violence began, urging them to get Dalton off the road. His fiance later expressed concerns about a lack of an immediate response from the police and Uber -- eventually venting frustrations on Facebook.
Yet there could be an easier way to raise the alarm when an Uber ride goes wrong. And indeed, it already exists in India -- a sort of panic button. But U.S. riders shouldn't expect it anytime soon, according to the company.
The local Indian version of the app includes an emergency safety alert feature: With one click, riders have the option to connect a call to the police, send instant alerts that share information about their trip and driver to local authorities and trigger the company's own incident response team. The so-called panic button can also send an automated message to preselected emergency contacts that details the trip and allows them to monitor it by GPS in real time, according to a blog post about the system.
The feature was rolled out in India as a pilot last year after a firestorm erupted over sexual assault allegations against an Uber driver. The company had said it would bring the service to other countries and reportedly planned to deploy something similar in Chicago, according to a Chicago Sun Times story from last February, following similar allegations against an Uber driver in that city.
But it doesn't appear the panic button actually reached Chicago. And in a call about the Kalamazoo incident, Uber security chief Joe Sullivan said that the feature likely won't make its way to U.S. riders soon.
Uber developed the feature for India because the emergency response infrastructure there is not as robust as it is here, he said, and Uber might consider expanding it to other markets -- but probably not the United States.
"In the U.S., 911 is the panic button," Sullivan said, arguing that it would be "a stretch" to try to do better than the formal infrastructure. After this story was published, a company spokesperson explained that Uber does not want customers calling a corporation when they should be calling the authorities first.
As it stands now, drivers and riders are asked to rate their experience after an Uber trip is complete and riders can leave comments describing their concerns. Buried in the apps' menu is also a "Critical Safety Response" section that urges riders to call 911 in the event of an emergency and offers an 800 number that connects riders with the company's incident response team.
To find that page, U.S. Uber users must open the main menu on the app and click on "Help." From there, they must hit "Report an issue" for the appropriate trip, before finding the option for the "Critical Safety Response Line" near the bottom of a list of more mundane problems like disputing a fare.
The company said it also offers a "share your estimated time of arrival" feature that riders can share with any contact.
Sullivan said on the call with reporters that he did not readily have the numbers on how large the company's incident response team is in the United States or how many situations they deal with on a daily basis. When riders complain about violent behavior, the company immediately suspends drivers from the platform while they investigate, he said. But when riders allege poor driving, the company typically talks to the driver about the incident before taking action, according to Sullivan.
"We don't want to overreact to one piece of feedback," he said, because some negative comments are almost inevitable when a driver interacts with hundreds of riders.
Dalton, who did not have a criminal history and passed Uber's background check, started driving for Uber around January 25th and completed over a hundred rides while earning a rating of 4.73 out of 5 stars, Sullivan said. He declined to give a precise timeline of Dalton's driving for Uber on the day of the shooting -- or when the company received feedback about it -- deferring to local police due to the ongoing investigation. However, Sullivan acknowledged they had received complaints about Dalton's driving on the day of the tragedy.
Matt Mellen, the man who apparently took a harrowing ride in Dalton's car not long before the shooting, and his fiance said they struggled to figure out how to warn Uber about the dangerous driver. They said they eventually found an e-mail address and sent a lengthy message, but only received a reply from Uber on Sunday around noon, almost a full day after reaching out.
Clarification: This post has been updated to make it clear that Sullivan, the Uber security chief, did not readily have numbers on the size of the company's incident response team when he was on a call with reporters. It also added a statement from Uber that was provided after this story was published.