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Uber creates "Driver Advisory Forum" to get driver lowdown

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Uber has experienced a fair amount of friction with its drivers over the past few years, but the ride-hailing company has been working to mend those relationships.

After launching its "180 days of change" in June, in which it introduced out 38 new features to help drivers, the company is continuing that effort with a more permanent fixture. Uber is launching a "Driver Advisory Forum" that will help counsel the company on how to do better by drivers.

The forum will be made up of a group of drivers Uber will fly to its headquarters in San Francisco twice a year to meet with company's CEO and other members of its executive team. During these meetings, drivers will be encouraged to speak about the issues most important to them. The first meeting is January 16.

"We're focused on formalizing the way we integrate driver feedback to really make their voice a part of everything we do at Uber," Rachel Holt, Uber's vice president of operations and marketing in the US and Canada, said in an interview. It's "going to help ensure our priorities are aligned with drivers in the months and years ahead."

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Since its founding in 2009, Uber has steadily grown to become one of the world's largest ride-hailing services -- with roughly 2.5 million drivers in about 75 countries. In May, it completed its five billionth ride. But with that growth, the company's relationship with drivers had become tenuous.

Drivers protested about continually lower pay, longer working hours and no support. They also filed lawsuits, quit driving for the company or switched to rival Lyft. It reached a boiling point earlier this year after a leaked video showed Uber's then-CEO Travis Kalanick berating a driver. After that, Uber pledged to "overhaul" its relationship with drivers.

"We absolutely believe and recognize that drivers are unbelievably important to Uber working," Holt said. "And that's incredibly fundamental to our success and our riders having a reliable service."

In June, Uber launched 180 days of change, which ended in November. Now, moving into 2018, the company is creating the Driver Advisory Forum and also adding a couple of other new features. One is "in-app feedback," which lets drivers suggest improvements at any time. Uber says it'll review all feedback and use it to continually introduce new features.

Uber is also launching out an "Early Tester program" for a select group of drivers to try new features and updates before they're rolled out widely. This group of drivers will be able to give feedback on whether or not those features are helpful.

"As we look to the future, we really want to be more clear in our commitments," Holt said. "For us, this is really about building the best possible experience for drivers and with drivers."

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