App-taxis safer than autos?

App-taxis safer than autos?

A quick, hassle-free and safe drive home is the only thing you want after work. Working people, for a very long time, have had to depend solely on autorickshaws and the climate of uncertainty they brought with them.

The new app-based taxi services launched recently promised to offer a choice, only to be caught in security and safety issues especially concerning women in the wake of the Delhi rape episode.

Despite this, working people still vote for the app-based services. Reason: They are far safer than autorickshaws. There will, of course, be voices that vote for autos. But the arguments put forward by taxi users are equallly strong.

Shravanthi B, a writer who commutes between M G Road and her Sarjapur road home, says that app-based taxi services have plenty of positives that if fine-tuned would change the transportation and travel ethos in the city. “In the overall scheme of things, between an auto and an app-taxi, I would prefer the taxi. I feel far more comfortable with app-taxis.”

Here are her reasons for favouring the taxi service: “Lots of information about the taxi, the travel and the driver. I get information on my cell phone on the arrival time of the taxi, post-booking, the name of the driver, his telephone number, location of the car, the time the cab will take to reach the pick-up point at my office or home, vehicle number and number to be called in an emergency. In an actual situation, you may not get the time to operate all this, but the fact that the information is with you gives you a chance to be safe.”

Constantly tracked

Besides, the taxi is tracked at all times through the app, which means the driver is under watch. “Depending on the taxi I take, I don’t have to provide information on where I want to go. I state that only after I get into the car, at which point the driver cannot refuse to ply.”

The professional has been using Uber taxi, but now is forced to use an auto as app-based services are under pressure from the government not to ply before registering with the Transport department. Shravanthi is eagerly awaiting taxi services again.

“Uncertainty is a closed chapter with the taxis. With autos, everything is uncertain - you don’t know whether they would ply to your destination, how much more money they would charge after 9 pm, and what would happen after a lot of bargaining and argument.”

With the taxis, the fare is the same after 9 pm or 10 pm. “You pay a fixed rate and you’re done. Overall my experience has been safe and the technologically connected taxis make them a safer option”, says Shravanthi. She has not had too many issues with drivers, except that she felt uncomfortbale when some drivers would talk for too long on their mobiles. These aberrations, she says, can be eliminated with human resource training from the company. Shravanthi has been using app-taxis for about four months and can
recall only one refusal.

Give taxi firms time

Her solution to the current problem is clear: Give taxi companies time to eliminate errors or teething problems that crop up with any new project. Give them a deadline to register and hold the operators responsible if deadline is not met. But outright banning would affect hundreds of users who are gradually getting used to taxi travel.

Uday Shankar, a management consultant for start-ups and co-founder of The Goa Project, similar to the TED Talk programme, shares a sentiment similar to Shravanthi’s. “I have been very comfortable with app-taxis compared to autos. I happen to be familiar with the tech world and this perhaps makes the tech-based taxis more comfortable for me than for others. All information about the vehicle and the driver would be available on the cellphone. To the extent that there is advance info, taxis are certainly safer.”

Discounts are another attraction. Shankar explains, “As soon as Uber introduced discounts, Ola and Meru cabs too implemented the same. You also have access to a three-tier car service - sedan, SUVs and hatchbacks. The end user can choose from any of these, which they can’t with autos. End users benefit most.”

The management consultant says that a permanent tracking facility should be fixed on the car itself rather than depend on the drivers’ cellphone. “If the driver switches off the cell, you cannot track the car through the app. But with a permanent tracking technology fixed to the car itself, all details would come straight to the operations room from which you know every activity of the car. This surely is a safety device better than any other.”

Driver verification

But Shankar emphasises more on driver verification. “Many drivers have told me that they can pay Rs 1,000 to the police and get a certificate. How will cabs guarantee the status of the driver and the certificate if it can be bought for a few rupees? Taxis have to devise a way to ensure authenticity of the driver and the records. This has not been worked out yet. There is need to collaborate with the police.”

Many apps allow passengers to give their feedback on the trip, based on which the taxi company can take action. Shankar feels commuters can check on the trip review sheet and take decisions on safety and security accordingly.

Shubha Narayanan, a communication professional, has been using taxi service for a few months now. “I find taxis convenient both around noon and late night. I have had only one issue till now - a taxi refused to ply at 11 pm once and I had to then depend on an auto. After that experience, I have been cautious about taxis.”

She too wants stringent driver verification processes. “The verification issue showed up in the Delhi rape case where background checks was not done. Taxi companies and authorities have to find a way of authenticating the antecedents of drivers. There are some who also give wrong information about where they live. This is the most crucial issue for women passengers.” But she wants companies to be given time to iron out problems.

Asst. Professor,
Presidency College - "The taxi apps seldom get the cab at the time/place you intend to book. I have personally been misguided. Probably, this ban sends a strong message for operators to be more conscientious."

Advocate, taxi user - "Banning a taxi service is an easy way out. I am not for taking away such a useful alternative to autorickshaws. Let the police and transport department take precautionary measures and let taxis ply."

Content writer  - "I am totally fed up with harassment by autorickshaw drivers. Taxis are a big boon for Bengaluru. I am definitely not for a ban. Let them regulate the services, instead of this knee-jerk reaction of a ban."

Mgt. consultant -"If the driver switches off the phone, you cannot track the car through the app. But with a permanent tracking technology fixed to the car, all deta­ils would come to the operations room. This is safer."

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