On its official website, Uber, the high-profile ride-sharing service, claims that it offers the "safest rides in the world" by "setting the strictest safety standards possible."
But it's unclear what Uber does to ensure the safety of passengers in India. The company's website provides no country-specific information.
When contacted, Uber provided Hindustan Times with a boilerplate statement, which says that it works 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."
It's unclear who these partners are and whether Uber does any background checks or police verification on the drivers it employs in India.
As a passenger, this is troubling. When you take an Uber, your driver knows your full name, your phone number and exactly where you live.
Unlike radio taxi services like Meru, which employ standalone GPS systems in their cars, Uber relies solely on the built-in GPS on the smartphones it provides to its drivers. This means that going off the grid is as simple as turning off the phone."
At least in the case where a woman executive in Delhi was raped allegedly by a Uber cab driver , police have confirmed that there was no mandatory verification done before hiring him.
The accused is still on the run and the police could not access his call records as the server is located in the US.
Uber, which just closed a second billion-dollar-plus round of funding this year, and is now valued at more than $40 billion, has always shrugged off responsibility by maintaining that it is not a car company but a technology company: it owns no vehicles, only software, and is thus simply a platform that brings drivers and people who want to be driven together.
Uber's controversial record in the US
In the United States, Uber has a three-step criminal background screening process with county, federal and multi-state checks that go back seven years. The company also requires users to rate every driver after a ride and provide feedback, which, it insists, is anonymous. Drivers that consistently rate low are terminated.
Despite these safeguards, there have been multiple incidents of Uber drivers sexually assaulting passengers . In 2013, an Uber driver in Washington DC was arrested for allegedly raping a 20-year-old passenger though there were no charges pressed. In April this year, an Uber driver in Chicago was charged for fondling a customer.
In the United States, Uber tacked on a $1 "Safe Rides Fee" to its UberX fare earlier this year.
On its blog, Uber says: This fee supports the increased costs associated with our continued efforts to ensure the safest platform for Uber riders and drivers. Those include Federal, state and local background checks, regular motor vehicle screenings, driver safety education, current and future development of safety features in the app, and more. In the US, the Safe Rides Fee is always $1 USD. In Canada, it is $1 CAD.