A woman recently shared her horrifying experience in the hands of an Uber taxi driver in Bengaluru recently, where she alleged that the man threatened to tear her clothes, if she did not leave the cab. This was after he had told her that as an educated woman, she should not be out drinking with her friends. She complained about how, after pressing the emergency button, the Uber Safety Team called the driver instead of her, and how he told them that she was drunk. After she posted her ordeal on social media, Uber responded by permanently revoking the driver’s access to the app.
This is not a rare case. Starting from the 2014 Uber rape case in New delhi, which led to widespread outrage, after a 27 year old woman was raped by a driver while she was returning home, both Uber and Ola have faced many such rape charges against their drivers. The 2014 case exposed huge regulatory and safety gaps as Uber was accused of dealing with a driver who already had rape charges against him, and employing him without conducting any background check.
With app-based cabs constantly coming under criticism for not doing enough to ensure the safety of its passengers, the Supreme Court had recently asked the central government to regulate aggregator services and make them more accountable for women’s safety. The Supreme Court Bench, headed by Justice SA Bobde had also asked the Government to consider bringing in a law to regulate mobile based taxi services and ensure the safety of its passengers.This came after the petitioner, Nipun Saxena, filed a PIL seeking to implement strict regulations for app-based services.
The new Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2019, has also given power to the Government to set up rules to govern aggregator taxi companies such as Ola and Uber. The Bill has also identified taxi aggregators as a separate category. As per the new Bill, aggregators will be issued licenses from the government.
While taxi aggregator platforms Uber and Ola have made travelling much more convenient, there have also been many incidents which have raised safety concerns, especially for women travellers. While being repeatedly pulled up for not doing enough to ensure that their taxis are not driven by criminals, Uber and Ola have also tried to make their taxis safer by bringing in safety features on their cabs.
Let’s take a look at the safety features in cabs that we need to be aware of:
Project Guardian: A real time monitoring system which was launched by Ola in September, last year, as part of its Road-Safety programme, the Ola Guardian will track all on-going rides, based on indicators such as route deviation, midway or unexpected stops, the time of travel. Based on these indicators, safety triggers will be activated to alert Ola’s Safety Response Team.
24*7 customer support: Customers can choose to reach out to Ola's 24/7 customer support center via the in-app self-serve system, or via phone support or any of Ola's social media handles, where an executive would be ready to assist them in the language of their choice
OTP to initiate the ride: Driver-partners cannot start the ride until the OTP shared by the customer is entered in the app. This OTP feature not only ensures that the customer boards the cab assigned to him/her but also prevents driver impersonation.
Background verification: Drivers are background-verified and also need to go through police verification before they are hired.
Feedback: Allows users to rate drivers based on their services and their experience with them.
Stay safer: This is a google maps feature which will notify riders of both taxis and autos in case their vehicles are going off track.
Ride details sharing: Allows the rider to share details of the ride with five friends and relatives.
Emergency button: This allows commuters to alert the response team, the police control room and pre-defined emergency numbers of the passenger.
Number-masking feature: Commuter numbers are masked from drivers to enhance safety and privacy of its riders. For this, the company uses cloud telephony solution, which sends an encrypted number to the driver so that the commuter’s number is not visible. The driver is automatically routed to the commuter through an encrypted number.
Women drivers: Ola has been training more women drivers to take on the wheels and provide a safer environment for women commuters.
24*7 helpline: Amongst the latest initiatives for safety, Uber has launched a 24*7 helpline for drivers and commuters. The helpline will connect callers to representatives from the Centre for Excellence in India, who are part of the Incidence Response Team.
In app SOS button: Following the 2014 incident where a driver was accused of raping a female passenger, Uber came out with an SOS button which allows the passenger to call the police in case of an emergency. In case of an untoward satiation, the passenger can press the button, which will then prompt whether the user wants to go ahead with the call to the local police.
Send status: This allows the passenger to share details of their ride, which includes the driver’s photo, license plate number and live GPS tracking, with up to five pre-decided contacts.
Driver rating: The app also allows users to anonymously rate the driver after each ride. This will allow future users to check the driver rating before confirming the ride.
Real ID check: Uber has a real-time id checking feature which requires drivers to periodically share their selfies with the company. This is to ensure that the driver matches with the details on the aggregator records. In case the two photos don’t match, the driver’s account will be temporarily suspended.
Additional precautions that the passengers can take:
While the ride-hailing apps have been enhancing their safety features, as passengers it is important to take precautions as well.
Be aware of your route: Always ensure that you ask the driver to take a route that you are aware of. If you are in a new city, keep a map with you and note important landmarks and turns you have taken.
Keep a family member/relative updated: After you board the taxi, keep your family/friends posted about when you have started, where you have reached and how long they can expect you to reach in.
Avoid sleeping: It’s best to be alert and avoid sleeping off when you travelling in a taxi alone, especially in the night.
Do not divulge details: Avoid talking about your personal details, either with the driver or with any person you would be talking on the phone.
Keep a pepper spray: You can also keep a pepper spray can or any other heavy object with you, in the unfortunate situation that you may need to use it.