Despite the kind of technology being used, it seems despite the number of safety measures being taken by various cab operators in India, the safety of women still remains a big question. Will it ever be safe for a woman to travel alone at any point of time in India?
In a shocking incident, a woman was allegedly raped by an Uber driver that she had booked via the Uber app to return home from a dinner party in Gurgaon on Friday this week.
According to reports, the woman had gone to a restaurant for dinner with some friends and had ordered an Uber cab from Vasant Vihar to take her to Inderlok. On the way, the woman dozed off on the back seat of the car and on waking up she found the cab was stopped at a secluded spot. The car doors were locked and when she tried to raise an alarm, the driver thrashed at her and then proceeded to rape her. In her complaint, the woman said the driver repeatedly slapped her and punched her when she tried to use her phone to make a call. He then reportedly warned her not to report the matter to the police when he dropped her home.
“The driver reportedly told the woman that he would drop her home safely only if she assured him that she would not report the matter. He warned her that he knew her address and would get her killed if she dared to complain about him to Uber,” said police sources.
The woman clicked a photograph of the car’s number plate and then made a PCR call to report the incident.
Uber later put out this statement:
We became aware of the incident this morning. Safety is Uber’s highest priority and we take situations like this very seriously. We are working with the police as they investigate, and will assist them in any way we can to determine what happened. It is also our policy to immediately suspend a driver’s account following allegations of a serious incident, which we have done. In India, we work with licensed driver-partners to provide a safe transportation option, with layers of safeguards such as driver and vehicle information, and ETA-sharing to ensure there is accountability and traceability of all trips that occur on the Uber platform.
Security Lapse Within the System
The police have been unable to track down the driver, despite the help of Uber, so far.
Usually when you book a cab via Uber, the user is shown a photo of the driver, his phone number and the cab number which helps users to trace the driver. In this case, however, the correct details of the driver were missing as the suspect’s phone was not registered in his own name.
Secondly, Uber does not use a standalone GPS system, which is usually hard or impossible for a driver to disable. Instead, Uber uses a phone-based GPS system, which is similar to how it traces the user, to track its cars. Thus switching off the phone or deleting the app takes the driver off the radar. The driver seems to have switched off the phone or deleted the app from his phone, thereby thwarting efforts of using the GPS tracker on the app to trace the cab.
On the other hand, Uber’s competitors such as Meru have GPS systems in their cars, which helps them to track the car and also keep a check whether on speeding. The company also has installed a panic button on the Meru app that customer’s use, which can alert two trusted numbers and show the user’s location on a map.
Questionable Hiring Practices, No Police Verification or Checks
Uber’s claims of it’s focus on providing a safe transportation option with layers of safeguards such as driver and vehicle verification seems like eyewash. The driver did not even have a driving licence issued by the Delhi Transport Authority. Adding to this, the driver did not go through the mandatory police verification, and neither a background check was conducted by the company.
An Uber driver in New York had described the entire hiring process to a Quartz reporter, where he told that company doesn’t even have any particular hiring process. One just walks in for a small class on general etiquettes, a brief about the company and that’s it! There is no training. “They basically hire people from the gutter. They don’t care. They just need bodies. They need somebody who can get their own cars, fit the best possible GPS, and start driving,” he said.
Uber has had many such cases reported in past as well. In 2013, an Uber driver in Washington D.C. was arrested for a rape case against a passenger and earlier this year an Uber driver was found guilty of fondling a female passenger.
Uber had launched its operations in India last year and have been rapidly expanding in the country since then. The company has been in the news from the past few months after RBI had made 2fA mandatory for payments, for which it recently tied up with Paytm. Uber India recently introduced UberGo, a new low-cost service, and driver vehicle financing in a bid to raise awareness of its service among consumers.
While the police are still looking for the suspect, the question that now arises is whether such services are ensuring safety of it’s customers or are blindly hiring anybody to fuel their growth at the cost of the consumer?