Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Delhi's Uber, rape and the ban

First, it was the outrage against the rape of a young woman by the driver of a cab she hired using the Uber app in Delhi on Friday night.

Now the outrage is against the banning of some of the cab services in Delhi.

If the authorities act, they are damned.

If the authorities don't act, they are damned.

Will we get anything right, ever?


One, Delhi, and the rest of the nation, had only in the recent past -- in December 2012 -- witnessed a massive outpouring of frustration and anger over the dangers women face, following the rape and murder of Nirbhaya.

The driver involved in Friday's incident, Shiv Kumar Yadav, would obviously have known about all these. He should have known what is okay and what is not okay. He should have by now learnt to behave himself. And, he should have also known what lies in store for him, if he doesn't. So, what explains this incident, in spite of all that happened over the past two years?

It may be a very cynical and pessimistic thought: but I think how much ever tough the law is, for the determined criminal nothing is a deterrent. He commits the crime and shows no remorse. While we have tough laws on one side, the onus also lies on us to be careful. (This is not to suggest, that when accidents happen it's the victim who has to be blamed. If anyone has to be blamed, it's the perpetrators of the crime.) Our society isn't a safe one. There seems to be danger lurking in every corner. Good souls are exceptions rather than the rule.  


Two, the young woman in her mid-twenties had used a safe (or what we always thought is a safe) method to book a cab -- the Uber app. The San Francisco-based company had of late attracted a fair amount of admiration for their innovative method of running a taxi service, which is highly technology driven, with very less human intervention in the operations. For its highly customer-friendly approach, Uber has also attracted criticism from established taxi services especially in the UK, and to some extent in India.

I know many people, especially women, who repose lot of faith in Uber because they think the service is not only very customer-friendly, but being one headquartered in the Silicon Valley, it will have the best practices in place, especially regarding safety.

I don't think the company understood the extent of trust customers reposed on it. Definitely not. If it had, it would have also ensured that its cabs were not run by any Tom, Dick and Harry -- the one in question was run by a criminal.

Uber should have ensured that the drivers matched up to the standards the company has set for itself. Did Uber forget basic issues of safety in its race against competition?

Three, where was the GPS tracking of the cab? All bunkum. What is the point of talking of great technological innovations, if you can't put them to real-time use?


Yesterday, the Delhi governent discovered that Uber, Ola, Taxi for Sure and TaxiPixi, have not been recognised by the Transport Department to run taxi service. Only Meru, Mega, Chanson, Yo, Air and EasyCabs have the permission.

So, Uber, Ola, Taxi for Sure and TaxiPixi have been banned. This is being described as a needless knee-jerk reaction. I don't think so. The government did the right thing. If the cab services didn't have the permission to run, how could they be operating the service?

To argue that ordinary black-and-yellow taxis or autos are not banned when a crime happens in them, is a totally misplaced argument. There's a certain amount of trust and credibility one associates with Uber and other well-known branded taxi services.

In fact, this tragic incident should be taken as a wake-up call and other State governments should summon the operators of all taxi services and ensure they are functioning within the confines of the law.


This is not about a "blanket ban on all services", or akin to "throwing the baby with the bathwater". This is about banning somthing that is unlawful. Indeed one shouldn't ban something that lends itself to subjetive interpretation. But here it is not so. It's about not being on the right side of the law.

While the government has acted, belated though, it owes an explanation on how it allowed thousands of cabs that didn't have permits to run. It's also amazing that no one raisesd this point ever. Probably becaues everyone was benefiting from it. Then, at least the authorities should have woken up earlier, and regulated the cab service system, and updated the laws.    


Law needs to be clearer on what cab services or radio taxis are. And, it needs to keep pace with technological innovations that are changing the public transport landscape.

Different taxi companies have different methods of operation. There are companies that own cabs and employs drivers to run them. Drivers are paid a salary, besides a proportion of the fare.

The revolution that Ola brought about was the concept of aggregation. The company doesn't own any cab. Individual taxi drivers get registered with them, and companies like Ola, only function as a platform to bring the cab driver and the passengers together.

But what is extent of ownership that the company takes to ensure the safety of the traveller? Not clear. Matrimonial sites and dating sites, prominently carry a disclaimer saying they are in no way responsible for what comes out of the users' interations.

The innovation that Uber has brought in is in the technology sphere. There is minimal human intervention -- from booking the cab to paying the driver.


1. Bring absolute clarity to the burgeoning cab service in India.

2. Update the laws so that customer-friendly operating models like that of Ola, TaxiForSure and Uber too are also recognised as legitimate taxi services.

3. Irrespective of the method of operation, basic safety guidelines have to be put in place.

4. There has to be continuous, random and surprise checks on cabs to see if they are complying with laws or not. Violators have to be booked.