In 2006 when radio taxi services were first launched in Delhi, the then state transport minister, Arvinder Singh Lovely, had said these cabs fitted with a global positioning system would also come with a “panic button” in case of an emergency.
The panic button remained a mere suggestion. And the safety net for passengers was focused solely on the terms and conditions for the radio taxi scheme issued by the transport department.
These terms explicitly said the driver must be of a “good character and without any criminal record”. Further, radio taxi licensees or operators were responsible for police verifications and behaviour of their employees.
“The employer shall ensure that the drivers are totally safe, reliable, and trustworthy,” the rules said.
“If the radio taxi licensee uses or causes or allows a vehicle to be used in any manner not authorised by the permit or provisions, the licensee and driver shall be jointly and severally responsible for any offence or crime which has been committed by a person, including driver, using the said vehicle,” the rule further added.
Industry players say such rules only apply to radio taxi operators and not to aggregators that joined the lucrative business of transporting people a few years back. Aggregators do not require a licence from the transport department for their operations.
Delhi has four radio operators, Mega Cabs, Meru Cabs, EasyCabs and Wyn Cabs, and together they own a fleet of 2,500 cars. Companies such as OLA, TaxiForSure and Uber are aggregators, which tie up with private taxi-drivers and charge a commission on each booking. The commission is 5-20 per cent per ride. Such taxis ply under the state or all-India tourist taxi permit.
“The aggregators argue that since they are technology driven companies, they do not need a licence to run taxis,” says Kunal Lalani of Mega Cabs and president of a radio taxi association.
“We have been demanding that like us, these aggregators should be brought under the ambit of law,” he said.
If Lalani is right, the state government did not have any other option but to ban the services of Uber. The US-based company is facing investigations after one of its drivers was arrested for allegedly raping a young woman in a taxi in the national capital.
Terms and conditions for radio taxi scheme in National Capital Territory, issued by the transport department in 2006
Radio taxi operators say besides writing to the police for verification of drivers, they have taken additional security measures. “Each driver has to get police verification done. We get the address verification done by sending a registered post. This ensures that we have all details. Also Meru keeps biometric records of drivers and other documents such as licence and registration certificate of the vehicle,” says Siddhartha Pahwa, Group CEO of Meru Cabs.
The radio taxi operators usually hire a driver on the basis of his badge, which is must for a person driving a public vehicle such as a bus or auto in the city. The operators consider badges the first level of screening as these are handed out by the public transport department on the basis of a police verification report. The policemen visit the address of the driver to check his antecedents and also screen for any criminal record.
In the recent incident, the police lapsed on the character certificate of the driver, who has been previously accused of a similar incident.
Aprameya Radhakrishna, co-founder, TaxiForSure, the Bangalore-based taxi aggregator, however, believes the recent incident will not affect other taxi aggregators in the country. He says they take all the necessary steps before engaging a driver.
“We collect all details, including police verification of the driver, and upload them in our systems. Besides, we prefer to have drivers with a better network in a locality where he can monitor other drivers in his circle,” Radhakrishna said.
“The features in our app help commuters to get in touch with family and friends during travel,” he added.
But not all the aggregators are going in for proper police verification. Saurabh Sharma, who operates a taxi with a leading player in Delhi, says though the company has taken all the details of drivers and vehicles, it never asked them for any sort police verification. “Neither have they asked nor have we gone to the police for checking,” said Sharma.
Experts said these technology-based aggregators may not be asking for a radio licence primarily due to two reasons. First they have to invest heavily in cars, and secondly it is difficult to obtain a badge for the drivers.
“Availing a badge is a tedious and stringent procedure wherein conditions likes 15-year domicile in the city is mandatory,” TabCab, a Mumbai-based radio taxi operator, says.