Malayalis responded with shock and anger to the incident involving a private cab driver and three passengers who assaulted him when he refused to oust the passenger who was already on board the shared cab service. The argument that ensued led to the three female passengers allegedly assaulting the driver. The incident, although was taken up by the police, left a section of the crowd wondering what exactly car pooling or car sharing is. Malayalis who were not even exposed to the concept of auto sharing are yet to wrap their brains around the idea of sharing a non-public transport vehicle with complete strangers. Vidya Gopalakrishnan, a regular taxi cab user, says carpooling would be availed depending on what time of the day it is.
She explains, “I will avoid using carpooling at night. I guess it would be fine in the morning. Carpooling will also depend on the distance I have to travel. I might avail carpooling service if it is for a very short distance and also if it is a place that I really know. Especially because I will be able to know if the driver is taking any diversion. Not just because of this particular incident, but even otherwise, if we look at it, carpooling is not a very safe option. We know that the driver is traceable when we take regular cab service.
When we look at this particular incident, the driver was at the receiving end. What if the passenger was at the receiving end? Passengers cannot choose who they want to travel with and I think it’s not a safe option.” Jacob Thomas, Secretary, Kerala Online Taxi Drivers Union, says “Bringing about a pool system will always benefit the public, but the problem here is that the company launching this service has not been able to convince the public properly. These online taxi companies did not provide a guideline. The public on the other hand, one fine day, started seeing the ‘carpool’ option on their app and noted that the overall fare is quite less in comparison to the other service. Naturally, they would book it without any idea about what exactly it is.”
He adds, “It is just that this particular incident involving these women and the driver happened in full public view. There are other cases where complaints have been made regarding this service, when a passenger cancels a ride after seeing the cab already has another passenger in it. The only difference is that it did not end up in manhandling.” He explains the insecurity aspect of such rides, saying, “We have understood that such pooling/sharing service is used to a good extent by regular customers, but it is the security aspect that is always standing out. Especially when women avail the service and find other men in the cab. In most cases, we do make adjustments and give women the front seat. But we still cannot assure in what state the male passenger might board the vehicle, as in whether he is in a inebriated state or not. We also cannot forcefully kick out a passenger because if that person complains, then the company might terminate us.”
While the public seems to be shying away from carpooling, environmentalists believe that carpooling is one step closer to protecting our environment. Shibu K.N., an activist at Thanal, says, "A smart city is not one that is built with concrete and steel. It is the people who are sensitive to the environment and who care for others that make it smart. The smartest choice is always public transport and it is smart to share a cab or use car pooling. It is always fun to meet new people and get to know their world. Let's prove that we are social animals even outside social media. Help reduce cars/emissions to reduce the impact on climate, which will extend life on earth. Sharing a car is sharing the responsibility for a better world."
A spokesperson for Uber says, “Uber POOL has been a success in cities across the globe. We’re confident we’ll see similar outcomes with this service in Kochi, not only because it’s more affordable, but because it also gives people the opportunity to positively impact traffic and the environment. We are constantly engaging with riders through emails and in-app messages on news products, features and promotions in the city. Our technology also makes it possible to focus on safety for riders and driver-partners before, during, and after a trip with features such as GPS tracking, driver profiles, the option of cashless transactions, and real-time feedback to ensure accountability.”