Misery aggregators

While they are here to stay, for women travel by the cabs is clearly filled with risk.

A 30-year-old woman who was molested by her cab driver on her way home from work has brought to light once more the lack of regulations surrounding women’s safety. Although drivers are apprehended and sacked, cab aggregators are let off lightly. In this case, as the culprit was not the registered driver but an impersonator, the cab owner and the aggregator are also complicit, report Shrinivasa M. and Rohan Ramesh

With women now breaking gender barriers and entering professions that were for long male bastions, late night travel is no longer a taboo for many and for some it is a necessity given their work hours. But the experience of a 30- year- old woman, who hailed a cab at 2 am last Friday from Koramangala to her home in Begur, has left many in the city worried about the safety of such rides. The woman, employed in a private company in Koramangala, was left terrified as the cab driver stopped the car enroute and turning to her began to molest her, ignoring her screams. Fortunately, she was able to get out of the cab and rush to a nearby hospital and safety.

The fact that the cab was run by Ola, and not just by some small time operator, raises questions about the safety rules in place for the app-based operators, which have become a part and parcel of life in the city, giving the autorickshaws a run for their money.

While they are here to stay, for women travel by the cabs is clearly filled with risk. Employed by a BPO in the city, Chandana S, works night shifts two weeks in a month and has a company cab drop her home along with other employees afterwards. While a security guard accompanies the driver, she feels far from safe.

“I work night shifts two weeks in a month. Although we are dropped home in a cab I don’t feel very safe as both the driver and security guard are men,” she says, suggesting that women could be hired as guards and even drivers of cabs ferrying women passengers.

“If it were up to me, I would hire women as drivers and guards of cabs largely catering to women employees. Companies could put them on routes where more of their women employees are being dropped off,” she adds.

For Deepika Arvind, employed in a PR consulting firm, late night travel is a must some days a week when she has to stay late at work. While she uses Ola or Uber cabs on such occasions, she admits she has never felt completely safe on such drives home.

“I have never felt completely safe in a cab alone. There have been instances of drivers inappropriately staring at me or passing lewd comments under their breath when told to stick to a particular known route,” she recalls with a hint of anger on her face.

“Many of the drivers lack basic decency and culture. Some of them are very uncouth. A lack of decency cannot be attributed only to the fact that most are illiterate. I have met some very cultured and decent drivers too, but they are very rare,” she sighs, adding with emphasis, “It’s time we stopped objectifying women. These guys get emboldened due to the way women are portrayed in the media.”

Radhakrishna Holla, president Bengaluru Tourist Taxi Operators Association (BTTOA)
Cab aggregators are bringing a bad name to the whole industry. If they follow the rules, all the problems will be solved. But unfortunately they are not ready to follow them. Now the onus is on the state government to implement the guidelines issued. Passenger safety should be the first priority of any service provider."

Ramalinga Reddy, Transport Minister
There is a stay order on the code of conduct prepared by our department. Once the stay is vacated we will implement it.

An officer from the state transport department
The problem with a few of the cab aggregator service providers is that although the customer is king, they are not ready to provide them even the barest of safety coverage. No expenditure is involved in hiring drivers whose backgrounds have been verified , opening a call centre or following other rules.

Mrs. Rupa Kumar, a regular user
This incident should be probed thoroughly. Every industry has its own negatives.

Women passengers should aways send cab details to someone trustworthy: Leila Passah Gender rights activist
The first thing I do when I get into a cab is to message the driver’s details to my family as I have lost faith in the system. I ensure that either my husband or my son knows the details of the cab I am in. I would advise all women to do the same. Any woman traveling alone must ensure that she passes on her cab details to someone she trusts.

Coming to the cab drivers, I believe they need to be thoroughly vetted and trained. The cab aggregators, which employ them, need to ensure the drivers they hire are trained in etiquette, good behaviour and are well informed about the rights of women.Cab companies need to take responsibility. They have to be brought under and monitored by a state agency. These companies need to understand that they are answerable for the actions of their drivers.

Many drivers attempt sexual assault because they are not informed about the laws protecting women. Cab aggregators need to understand their responsibilities and train their drivers to behave politely with women.

‘Cab aggregators can take safety measures of their own volition’
Aware of the need to regulate cab aggregators, the state government introduced the Karnataka On Demand Transportation Technology Aggregators’ Rules 2016 in November last year only to have them challenged in the courts and have them stayed. Some of the rules, if implemented, could benefit women passengers hugely as they include fitting cabs with a panic button which they can use to alert the control room of the aggregator as well as local police without interference from the driver. Other rules insist on keeping track of the cabs through GPS/GPRS and letting the police check the antecedents of the drivers before they are allowed to ferry passengers by the cab operators.

Industry insiders say if aggregators followed even half the rules introduced by the state, it could help boost passenger safety considerably. Transport minister, Ramalinga Reddy, admitted that the department’s hands were tied at the moment due to the stay order on the rules. “ Once the stay is vacated we will implement them,” he assured.

A transport officer, however, noted that despite the stay nothing stopped cab aggregators from ensuring passenger safety of their own volition. “They may have objections to the licensing issues, domicile of the drivers, fares and so on spelt out in the rules, but nothing stops them from making sure their drivers have no criminal records or introducing round- the- clock call centers in the interest of passenger safety,” he pointed out.

Major provisions of the Karnataka On Demand Transportation Technology Aggregators’ Rules 2016

  • Cabs must be tracked continuously through GPS/GPRS facility and be fitted with a panic button that passengers can use to alert the control room of the aggregator as well as the local police without any interference from the driver.
  • They must have a display board inside carrying the vehicle permit and the driver’s photograph, name, driving licence and ID card issued by the police. The display board must be clearly visible to the passengers.
  • The cabs must be fitted with a yellow display board carrying the word “Taxi, ” that must be visible both from the front and the rear. It must be illuminated at night.
  • Cab operators must provide a list of their drivers, their licence numbers, the vehicle registration , chassis and engine numbers, and permit details to the licensing authority on a quarterly basis.
  • They must ensure that the antecedents of every driver is verified by the police before he is allowed to ferry passengers
  • They must have a round- the- clock call centre and ensure that all cabs maintain uninterrupted contact with the control room, which must be able to monitor the movements of all the vehicles.
  • They must send a photograph of the driver along with the vehicle registration number and other details to the customer’s mobile before boarding.
  • The driver should have a working knowledge of Kannada and one other language, preferably English.
  • He should be of a good moral character without any criminal record.
  • The driver of a taxi should behave in a civil and orderly manner with the passengers and shall not give room for complaints.
  • The driver shall not have been convicted within the past seven years for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or for any cognizable offence under the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, including fraud, sexual offences, use of a motor vehicle to commit a cognisable offence, a crime involving property damage or theft, acts of violence, or acts of terror
( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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