5 Oct, update: Ola’s responded to our questions about the Safety Response Team and certain terms and parameters which were previously unclear. Note that responses have been edited for brevity and paraphrased except where quoted explicitly.

MediaNama: What exactly is the profile of the Safety Response Team (SRT)?
Ola: The SRT, which consists of trained staff round the clock, has been created to address ‘any kind of distress or emergency’ during the ride. This team reports to an ‘experienced safety leader.’

MediaNama: Could you please explain what sort of interventions the SRT can make in case of an unsafe trip?
Ola: The SRT reaches out to the user immediately after the emergency button is pushed, Ola says. Ola will provide support in the form of either cancelling the ride, booking a new one etc. SRT will also “proactively reach out” to the user in case of route deviation, midway stops etc.

MediaNama: What exactly would constitute an unsafe trip?
Ola:

  • Poorly lit road at night could lead to an increased chance of accidents
  • If the cab is stationary for over 5 minutes on routes that are deemed unsafe, especially at night
  • The “Unsafe” context is defined through signals [and is an ‘evolving definition’] like:
  1. Night travel
  2. Routes with past unsafe incidents
  3. Isolated routes

For the safety of all stakeholders.

MediaNama: What happens when the user and the driver provide contradictory information? How does Ola verify either claims, and who does it believe?
Ola: “In the case of contradictory information, the SRT team investigates the case by meeting the driver partner and also engaging with the customer. Based on the facts and on-ground information, action is taken. Facts stated are verified from system information in a lot of cases such as route deviation, unscheduled stoppages and past history of driver-partners in terms of customer feedback also helps to come to a conclusion.”

MediaNama: Does Ola plan to anonymise this data or does the SRT have access to a user’s history of trips etc?
Ola: The SRT has access to a user’s ride history “to most effectively support the user and resolve the situation swiftly.” It adds that this information is not shared with any external parties, but it does, along with ratings, “help the company ascertain the behavior and performance of the customer and driver partner, to ensure the best quality of service.”

**

26 Sept, original story: Ola has launched Guardian, a real time monitoring system in Bangalore, Mumbai and Pune, with plans to launch it in Delhi and Kolkata by October end, and other cities by the end of 2018. Guardian will implement AI and machine learning to use indicators like route deviations, unexpected and midway stops etc. while the trip is live, which in turn will “trigger” safety alerts to the Ola’s Safety Response Team which will “attend to these immediately.”

After analysing this data, the team will connect with the user to assess ‘any potential unsafe ride and provide assistance as required.’ Ola does not specify what kind of assistance and intervention will take place during such a ‘potential unsafe ride.’ We’ve written to the company for more details and will update this when we hear from them.

Ola said that it is working with the government to map dark spots and unsafe routes on the monitoring platform to improve its performance, which will also be used by the safety team.

On its “Street Safe” program

  • Ola will work on mitigating driver impersonation.
  • It will authenticate driver identities through selfies and share it with the Ola team through the app. The photo will be compared with the image Ola has on record, and impersonators will not get further access to the platform, and be followed up with an investigation.
  • Ola will conduct offline checks for impersonation at airport hubs, railway stations and bus stands.
  • Driver photo size will be increased for user convenience.
  • It will also audit the state of the car – this has started at Hyderabad and Bangalore airports, and will be rolled out elsewhere in a phased manner.

The company also conducts workshops on

  • Defensive driving
  • Gender sensitisation
  • Eye checkups

Women’s safety ignored?

In June, the central government mulled a possibility of introducing ‘women only’ carpooling where the service would be exclusive to women users, after a woman passenger was molested and threatened by a driver in Bangalore.

Access to user identifying data a problem

It is important to note that last month, Abhinav Srivastav, an Ola employee and co-founder of Qarth Technologies, was arrested by the Bangalore City Police for accessing and making available UIDAI data through the “Aadhaar e-KYC verification” application. More importantly, this was done through the “e-Hospital” application and its server.

Read more here: Ola employee arrested for accessing Aadhaar KYC data; No case against KUA?