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Indian Uber users will now be able to book a ride by sending a WhatsApp message.

Starting this week, the ride-hailing giant will expand access to its services to include the WhatsApp messaging service.

In the new plans, riders will no longer need to download the Uber app to book a ride. Instead, an official Uber WhatsApp chatbot will handle everything from registration, through to booking a ride and getting a receipt.

The new integration is a global-first for Uber and will rollout in Lucknow first. New Delhi should follow soon before the chatbot gores India-wide next year.

WhatsApp users will be able to book a ride in three ways: messaging to Uber’s business account number, scanning a QR code, or clicking a link directly to open an Uber WhatsApp chat. 

Riders will then have to provide pickup and dropoff locations before receiving upfront fare information and the driver’s expected arrival.

Importantly, riders will get all the same safety features and insurance protections as those who book trips using the main Uber app.

This means users will be able to see the driver’s name and license plate, as well as tracking the driver’s location en route to the pickup and being able to talk to the driver through a hidden phone number.

The WhatsApp chat will also inform riders about safety guidelines, including letting riders type “help” during the trip to talk to the company directly. If a rider chooses “emergency” whilst on the trip, they will receive an inbound call from Uber’s support team. They will also have access to the safety line numbers to call the Uber support staff up to 30 minutes after the trip ends. 

For drivers, however, there will be no change in their experience when rides are booked through WhatsApp. 

Initially, the service will only be available to English language users but Uber is promising to expand to other languages “soon.” 

The news is significant for Indian users, given that the country only has around 30% smartphone penetration. However, a range of feature phones are starting to include “lite” versions of WhatsApp, allowing users to communicate through the messaging app without splashing out on a new smartphone.

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