By Piyush Tewari:
Uber is more than just a mobile phone app. It is a full-fledged cab company, fronting as a technology company. Consider this: Uber actively solicits drivers, many times providing them loans to buy vehicles; they then acquire customers for these drivers convincing users of their global brand, seamless technology and promise of safety; they directly pay the drivers for their services; and pocket 20% of the ride revenue. In doing this, they evidently ignore even basic procedures to ensure customer safety – a criminal breach of trust they seek to build with users. And Uber is not alone in demonstrating such indifference to safety. Several similar companies that have mushroomed lately follow identical practices. They all want to tap the taxi market but without the responsibility and accountability that a taxi company must carry towards its drivers and passengers.
So lax are background checks on drivers that in other countries Uber drivers have been found to have drug and other criminal charges pending against them, even as the company gave a clean chit to them after “verification”. Several of these drivers have gone on to assault customers, including a case in September this year where an Uber driver in US attacked a customer with a hammer and fractured his skull. Another was charged with kidnapping a passenger. The horrific rape of a woman professional in Delhi by an Uber driver exposes how seriously safety is taken by such companies.
So, is the answer to shut down Uber and its likes in India? Maybe not. Should they be regulated by law and held accountable for safety? Absolutely. Cab companies, whether they are traditional or new-age, have a significant role to play in ensuring safety. They may not be able to prevent all crimes, but they must create deterrents that enhance the certainty of criminals in their system getting caught. They can’t abdicate that basic responsibility. They are in demand because mobility remains a significant challenge in India. Safe and convenient modes of public transport are limited. Uber and other similar companies can bridge that gap; but only if they take safety seriously. Mobility without safety is meaningless and more often than not, disastrous.
About the author: Piyush Tewari is a commentator on public safety issues and has previously served on a Supreme Court of India panel to develop guidelines for protection of Good Samaritans who assist injured road-side victims. Views expressed are personal. Follow him on Twitter @piyushtewarii