Updated story (June 14, 2018): The centre will meet taxi aggregators Ola and Uber to possibly introduce “exclusive women pooling” to women passengers, just a few days after a driver in Bangalore molested and threatened a female passenger with rape, reports The Hindustan Times.

The Union road transport and highways ministry will call a meeting of cab aggregators soon to put forth the idea, as per the report. The idea was mooted by Union women and child (WCD) minister Maneka Gandhi last week. However, the issue was not discussed at a meeting between road and WCD ministries officials which was also attended by representatives from Ola and Uber, according to the above report.

Uber has said it is committed to safety of women passengers, while Ola has asked for time to respond to this development.

Original story (June 12, 2018): Following another case of molestation and threat to rape by an Ola driver, the Women and Child Development ministry has called for a meeting with cab aggregators, reported The Economic Times. The ministry will seek to make the companies more accountable for jeopardizing the safety of women. The meeting will be chaired by WCD minister Maneka Gandhi, who will press the companies on thorough background checks and ensuring that the child-lock feature remains disallowed. (A rear door child lock on some cars prevents them from being opened from inside by the passenger. This was designed as a safety feature by car makers but is-+ being abused by cab drivers.)

In a horrific incident last week in Bangalore, an Ola driver molested and stripped a woman passenger who was hailing a ride to the airport. The driver took pictures of her and threatened to call his friends and gang-rape her. Bangalore police has arrested the driver and a case has been registered against him.

Ola Cabs said the driver has been blacklisted from the platform and that the company has ‘zero tolerance’. The company said it is extending full support to the police authorities in their investigation. Bangalore police issued a notice to Ola Cabs as to why police verification for the driver was not done.

Siladitya adds: What exactly does ‘zero tolerance’ mean? And how does the company think that this tone-deaf statement and blacklisting is adequate? 

In April last year, the WCD ministry notified recommendations to “New Taxi Policy Guidelines” (issued by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and Shipping) with regard to the safety of women. The recommendations were to disallow the child-lock system, prominent display of the driver’s identity, photo and registration number, among others.

The Supreme Court also came down on cab aggregators last year when it indicated that a regulatory framework is required to ensure the safety of women travelling in app-based taxi services.

Cab aggregators in India remain problematic

This is a list of Ola and Uber drivers sexually harassing, assaulting, raping or molesting a female passenger ever since the Uber rape of 2014 in New Delhi.

Uber’s license for New Delhi was cancelled for six months in December 2014, when one of its drivers was accused of raping a passenger. It emerged that the driver, Shiv Kumar Yadav, was a history-sheeter and had four criminal cases pending against him in his home state Uttar Pradesh. The revelation followed outrage against the cab aggregator, as the driver’s address and background weren’t verified by the company.

In June last year, the company found itself in another muck for violating the privacy of the survivor of the above-mentioned rape. The survivor claimed that Uber had obtained her medical records to verify if her accusation was bonafide. The development snowballed into a controversy within the company; Eric Alexander, president of the company’s Asia-Pacific business, was fired for obtaining and keeping medical records of the 26-year-old survivor for over a year. Alexander also shared the medical records with CEO Travis Kalanick and senior vice-president Emil Michael; the top executives felt the rape accusation was a conspiracy by rival Indian firm Ola Cabs to bring Uber disrepute.

Siladitya’s take: It seems that the only way authorities can ensure passenger safety in the case of Ola, Uber and other cab aggregators, is by making the cab platforms both financially and legally liable for any incident. Ola and Uber shouldn’t be allowed to get away with simply blacklisting drivers, who may find their way back into driving cabs by switching aggregators. Ola and Uber are not simply technology platforms and cannot hide behind the veil of ‘this is a gig economy and drivers aren’t our employees’. They serve as the primary means of transport for many urban residents and therefore are responsible for their safety. It’s time to hold them accountable.