Strengthening safety aspects in daily commutes

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Strengthening safety aspects in daily commutes

App-based taxi services need to improve channels of communication and tracking options to ensure passenger security

By Raghunandan G

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Published: Sun 25 Jan 2015, 3:32 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 8:35 PM

Strengthening safety aspects in daily commutes

The recent incident in Delhi, where a woman was raped in a taxi that she had booked through an app, was unfortunate and shameful, to say the least. Coming in the wake of a series of similar incidents, it highlights the fact that our society is still a long way from becoming completely safe for women.

Strangely, when my colleague and I set out to start TaxiForSure, our primary objective was to provide a safe and reliable taxi service. As the dust settles, I am confident that the focus will return to enhancing safety.

I recall an incident in April 2005 when few ex-employees of a BPO company in Pune had obtained credit card details of customers in the US and stolen money from their international bank accounts. This incident led to much distrust, and the entire BPO industry and government agencies in India were criticised by the US media. What followed was that the company concerned, and the industry as a whole, worked closely with NASSCOM (the industry lobby) and the government in strengthening their information security processes, giving the industry new shape, direction and credibility.

The lesson in this for me was that an industry that is fundamentally sound, dedicated to solving customer problems, and in the process providing an honest livelihood to thousands of people, will bounce back if they take itin the right spirit.

Terms like ‘app-based taxi services’ or ‘web-based taxi services’ have been used as if these services were inherently unsafe. This is implicit in the ban on such services. App, web or phones are just channels for booking a taxi. The booking channel does not in itself make a service safe or unsafe. The same provider can offer multiple channels for booking. We offer all three channels for booking — a call centre in every city where we operate, web and app booking.

An app-based booking actually enhances the safety multi-fold as the taxi can be tracked by the passenger or by a friend. When a passenger at TaxiForSure books a taxi through the phone, she would not be able to track the taxi, but the call centre would be able to so. In a traditional taxi or auto service without an app or a GPS, tracking can happen only through the customer’s phone.

These inherent advantages do not mean that there isn’t more we can do to increase the safety of our customers. What do you call a company that employs 1,200-plus people, runs full-fledged branches with call centres in several cities across India, and tracks taxi movements from a central control room in the city? Calling such a company an app-based taxi provider would be totally incorrect.

Today, apart from our city-based commuters, several NRIs have started availing our services. Urban commute for NRIs, until last year, used to be quite a challenge in the absence of a robust and well-networked public commute system. The launch of taxi services has solved much of this problem.

Strengthening safety aspects in daily commutes

How do I see our industry evolve from here?

NRIs travelling to India also look for convenience and ease of commute, which they experience abroad. With the launch of facilities like the mobile app, mobile wallet and safety features like the Panic Button in cars, and ‘Inform a friend’ on the mobile app, taxi commuting has become safer and convenient for commuters.

The leaders in this space will go beyond what is stipulated by the law in ensuring safety. They will view what they need to do as a core component of the service and not as an additional cost. More customers will value safety and will look for it.

Technology will continue to help optimise fleet of taxis, which in turn will deliver cheaper rides to commuters.

Urban commute will be simplified. All taxis and auto-rickshaws would come under an aggregation model where technology enhances efficiency, availability, reliability, and above all, safety. This would result in lesser people driving their own cars to work every day. Furthermore, bookings will be done by apps and most taxis will have app-based tracking mechanisms. 

What taxi companies need to do?

Install sophisticated GPS devices in every vehicle. At TaxiForSure, we already have phone-based GPS in every vehicle, but given the fact that a driver can discard the device in the event of some trouble, we have taken a decision to install a sophisticated GPS device that is difficult to tamper with or dismantle.

Mandatory police verification for every driver every year.

Documents and permits to be in place and reviewed periodically for compliance.

Introduce additional safety features powered by technology and supported by a human element. At TaxiForSure, we are updating our app to provide foolproof features that would come as close to guaranteeing safety as humanly as possible.

The support that industry would need from the government is two-fold:

Strengthen the process of police verification. We recognise that databases in India and linking of records is still work in progress, hence we understand the difficulty that the government and police departments face. They can seek the help of large technology companies to partner them. These companies would gladly be a part of solving one of India’s biggest problems.

As technologies and economic engines evolve, the regulatory framework needs to keep pace with the new paradigms. The government and companies that are a part of the new age economy should sit together and come up with a regulatory framework that is designed around safety and ease of doing business in an environment of mutual trust.

I personally believe that when industry leaders come together with the country’s governing bodies to address burning issues of the nation, the result will only be positive and beneficial for the people of our country. 

The writer is the CEO of TaxiforSure.

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