CHENNAI: The horrific incident of rape in a Delhi cab has brought the spectre of sexual violence to what until now was considered a safer travel option. The fear of riding an autorickshaw in the dark had pushed more women into using app-based cab services that seemed to be the most trustworthy among the available options.
‘Safer than autos’ seemed to be the keyword here though, as using taxis while travelling alone still had an element of fear. “I found no issue with the cabs and have used it past midnight. It’s more accountable, the fares are fixed. But I never take cabs alone, especially at night,” says Radhika S, a working professional.
The accountability factor, however, has now led to mistrust, as the whole feeling of security of the app-based systems came crashing down after the Friday incident. It became more acute after news broke about the driver being a repeat offender as he had been hauled up for rape earlier as well. For, there was a general sense that background checks were done before operators took cab drivers on board.
“I have used them for late nights. I didn’t have any issue and found them safe. Now however, if a brand like Uber can have such an incident, I would definitely be scared to take a cab at night,” says Vaishali, another working woman. But not everyone is hitting the panic button.
“Any rape is horrific. But that was in Delhi. This is Chennai. Will I stop taking a cab? No. But I’ll be more careful,” says Ashreya Srinivasan. On social media too, Chinmayi Sripaada tweeted, “I’ve been an Uber user and the rape by a Uber cab driver rattles me. That said, Chennai is no Delhi. My city is safer methinks.” Another tweet read, “It’s not the cab. Or the bus. Or the train. Or the school. Or the office. Or, the safest place, home. It’s men.” For their part, cab operators insist that they take all the safety precautions. In a statement to Express, Meru cabs stated that every driver undergoes police and address verification. Besides, Meru keeps bio-metric details of drivers and documents in its database.
“Additionally, we have used technology to track every trip. Consumers can register for Trip Tracker facility. This provides the passenger’s trip details to a trusted person assigned by the passenger,” said the statement.
Also, 15-minute updates of the car location is sent to the number given by the passenger. They also state that the mobile app has an ‘ICE’ - In case of Emergency feature, that can be activated by the passenger. In 10 seconds, an emergency alarm will be triggered to two trusted persons showing the passenger’s location.
In the case of agencies like Ola, the drivers are allotted by owners of the cars. “Even though we are not a transport service provider, we ensure that the partner driver who is using our software passes the stringent compliance check of his personal and professional papers (KYC). Traceability is paramount for us,” said Anand Subramanian, Director — Marketing Communication, Ola in a statement to
Express. He added that they have a 24-hour call centre for emergencies, and that the cabs come equipped with a smartphone that helps track their GPS position.
But relying on a smartphone could have its pitfalls, as in the case of the Delhi driver who switched off his phone. “In the light of the recent incident in Delhi, we are working on creating an additional layer of GPS tracking in all cabs on the platform,” he stated.
(With inputs from Jonathan Ananda)