Suddenly, getting into a cab does not seem as safe as it was earlier

Bengaluru: With thousands of cab drivers operating through app-based platforms travelling through the city’s roads, who is to check whether the driver one has called for using the app is actually the one who has come?

A woman was allegedly molested in a cab in the city on April 28 by a person who was impersonating the actual driver.

The details furnished in the app, did not match the details in the cab. With over 10 lakh cab drivers registered under Ola and Uber nationally as well as other aggregators in the field, and close to 1 lakh estimated to be plying on the city’s roads, doubts have been expressed whether the April 28 incident was indeed a one-off.

The police believe there are many such cases of impersonation and have placed emphasis on taxi aggregators on weeding the illegalities out. “We have a single-window for police verification. This has to be used by these cab companies to cross-check the credentials of their drivers. Moreover, the aggregators must have random checks to determine if the drivers are following the rules,” Additional Commissioner of Police (East) Hemanth Nimbalkar said.

President of the Ola, TaxiForSure and Uber (OTU) Drivers’ Union Tanveer Pasha estimates that up to 10% of the cabs may have seen some sort of impersonation in Bengaluru alone. “The minimum number of rides to get incentives is one of the reasons for this. If a driver has to go home for an emergency or is sick, he may ask his relative or friends to drive under his app registration for a bit. This is common, and there is no checks for this,” he said.

Currently, regulation of taxi aggregators remains in judicial limbo: the Karnataka On-demand Transportation Technology Rules, 2016, is still being heard in the High Court of Karnataka and the court had ordered not to take any punitive action yet on these aggregators.

“The matter is sub judice. It is entirely up to the aggregators to ensure checks of their drivers and to monitor them. There cannot be any shift in blame,” Transport Commissioner B. Dayanand said.

Radhakrishna Holla from the Bangalore Tourist Taxi Owners’ Association (BTTOA) says the situation will not improve until cab aggregators are not removed from the ambit of the IT Act. “Bringing them under the Motor Vehicles Act will bring about transparency and better regulation,” he said.

For instance, contracted motor cabs have strict rules when it comes to transporting women after 10 p.m. — including having security guards to accompany women employees.

Though not officially commenting on the issue, taxi-aggregators pointed to existing safeguards of police verification of drivers, SOS button, and sharing ride details with emergency contacts for real-time updates. Ola Cabs uses a background-verification firm, while Uber, said their recently-launched “Real-time ID Check” sees drivers chosen at random to upload a selfie following which cognitive programmes cross-check the photo with the picture in their records. “The average verification time is just a few seconds and the technology was successful in verifying more than 99% of drivers in the pilot programme,” claims an Uber blogpost earlier in March.

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