This December, like the one two years ago, has brought a new and horrific case of rape, this time in a radio cab. The young woman in question had hired the cab through a facilitator called Uber only to be attacked by the driver, who it now turns out was an accused in a rape case earlier in which he was acquitted. In a country where a safe public transport system is still a pipe dream (and here we are just talking about cities, rural areas still make do with tractors and city-discarded phat-phatis), the arrival of privately-operated taxi services — radio-cabs, as they are known — was seen as a boon, especially by women.
In the last few years, there has been an explosion of sorts of such taxi services in the metros and people have taken to them because they claim that they are safer than the existing services because they are GPS-enabled and that companies run a proper police verification of drivers.
When the boom started, the early entrants in the game owned their fleet and so there was some sort of service and security guarantee for customers. But in the last few years, the entry of new companies changed the rules: Instead of now owning the cabs, these new entrants started utilising the services of mom and pop taxi rental companies and acted only as a facilitator between the rental company and the customer for a cut. Uber, which has now been suspended by the Delhi transport department, was one such popular service which could be accessed by a mobile app. These companies are also supposed to do police verification of their drivers and train them in basic customer relations. But as the Uber incident shows, the verification was not done. In fact, if today, a surprise check of the cab services is done, it is quite possible the transport department would find Uber-like lapses in many of them. While customers happily lapped up the new taxi services, the government too was raking it in without bothering to keep an eye on whether these companies were doing their bit in terms of security. In the US, Uber follows a three-layer security check but in India it did not think it worthwhile to institute a similar system. Banning the service may not change the scenario; things will be back to ‘normal’ in a few weeks if these checks are not carried out on a regular basis.
If the transport department has much to answer for, the legal system and the police also have to explain the lapses. The earlier rape charge against the accused was lodged in Delhi. Even though Yadav was acquitted last year when the victim allegedly turned hostile and the court found contradictions in her statement, a database of such incidents could have at least helped the company to exercise due caution. However, this does not absolve companies like Uber and they should pay the price for their inaction.