CHENNAI: With the latest incident of a Taxi for Sure cab driver in Delhi allegedly masturbating while a woman passenger was on board, women commuters in Chennai too have begun to share their apprehensions about safety on taxis. That it comes in the backdrop of the infamous rape cases involving Uber drivers only makes matters worse.
While Chennai has not had any recorded cases of cab drivers behaving indecently with women passengers, there have been stray incidents where women on board have been left feeling insecure.
Namrata Sharma, a communications executive in Chennai, narrated her experience one night where she was chauffeured and left stranded in the middle of the road by a drunk taxi cab operator.
“I took a cab from Chennai airport while getting back from Mumbai around 11 one night, and within the first few minutes of the ride, it became apparent that the driver was drunk. He kept slurring and there came a point when he just stopped the car, told me he was too sleepy to be driving and that he needed a breath of fresh air. He just got out of the car and left,” she said.
“I didn’t know where I was, it was dark and I was terrified that he would be back with some other men. I had to hail an auto, hardly safe at that time too, and hitched a ride home,” she recounted.
Other accounts, while not as scary as Namrata’s, do not inspire much confidence for the women involved.
Rani K and her mother were dropped off at the wrong railway station by the taxi driver who was unapologetic and left them stranded.
For people who did not know the town it was a worrying situation. “Thankfully, it was afternoon. If it was at night, I do not know what I would have done,” said Rani.
Both Namrata and Rani do not take cabs anymore. Namrata prefers to get picked up by her husband at night and Rani said that she has sworn just off cabs altogether. “This experience and the reports we hear constantly do not encourage feelings of security,” said Namrata.
According to cab companies, the feeling of insecurity is something that they are striving to actively assuage.
Safety features like SOS buttons, ride tracking and emergency contacts are features that all major online/app-based aggregators have implemented. There has also been an increased stress on driver verification, background checks and instant response teams to complaints, they say. However, there are complaints on the efficacy of these measures, including complaint redressal.
Drivers from aggregators say that driver verification is a process that is incredibly fast.
“I applied with my original documents on one day and I was driving for Uber two days later,” said Rajesh. Uber’s advertised policy is that drivers go through extensive background checks and police verification.
“Some of the drivers who applied before the security issues cropped up started on the platform with just half a day of processing. They are still driving on the platform,” he added.
The issue of liability in the case of abuse by the driver is also an issue. It has been the stand of companies in earlier incidents, a policy that continues according to sources in the industry, that except for complaints about service, liability for criminal acts does not lie with the company.
“It might seem insensitive but while we might continue to implement precautions, we will not be able to weed out every miscreant on the system. It can only happen if victims insist on filing a police case against the driver. A lot of times, our teams find that she is not willing to go to the police,” said a senior official at a taxi cab aggregator seeking anonymity.
If the victim files a police complaint, taxi cab companies say that they are willing to provide all cooperation to the authorities.
‘DAMAGE’ CONTROL MEASURES
- SOS button: When activated will send out real-time details including GPS coordinates to a friend or family member. Can be opted to be shared everytime you take a cab
- Limitation: Available only on app
- Second layer of GPS: GPS installed on car itself
- Driver verification: Initiated complete antecedents, criminal check and police verifications for all drivers through AuthBridge, a background verification company
- Panic Button: Located near the rear passenger seat in the cab as a bright button for customers to press in case of an emergency. Signal to the company’s control room when pressed
- GPS devices: Installed on all cars
- Inform a friend feature in the App: Feature allows you to inform a friend/ family about your TaxiForSure cab details and a link to track the ride
- SOS Button: Available on app
- Driver verification & Background checks - criminal, code database and address checks.
- Incidence response team: Calls to passenger and driver within five minutes
- Most real time safety features dependent on app only
- Driver initiation into platform too fast to allow proper verification and background checks according to some driver accounts
- Many drivers who got in before more stringent checks placed still on platforms