Meru Cabs, a leader in radio taxi service, is planning to launch the next level of driver verification process linked with Aadhaar, a biometric identification tool. This follows the recent assault of a woman passenger, who had booked a cab through the Uber mobile app, by the driver, and the subsequent ban of all app-based taxi services across states. The ban could affect as many as one million in the country.
Meru may get the first mover advantage in introducing the Aadhaar-linked plan, perhaps giving it an extra edge in the market in the absence of Uber, Ola Cabs and TaxiForSure (the three app-based service). But, other radio taxi companies are likely to join the bandwagon too. For this to work, all cabs will have a biometric system which will verify the drivers’ identity.
In fact, the IVFA (India Value Fund Advisors) controlled taxi service provider has completed the experimentation of Aadhaar linked verification process with help from Sanjay Jain, a key architect of Aadhaar card in India. Jain is also on the board of Meru Cabs, being run by Meru Cab Company.
Siddhartha Pahwa, CEO of Meru Cabs, told Business Standard that the move is meant to assure travellers that safety and quality ride are the top most concerns for the company. The company was supposed to unveil the technology in March 2015, but has now decided to advance it after the industry has come under attack for lapses in background check of drivers, that resulted in the alleged rape by a driver of Uber in New Delhi.
Recently, Vinod Khosla, a Silicon Valley billionaire, had suggested that Aadhaar and police verification of cab drivers could be combined to ensure stronger security measures. The Union government has also been actively advocating use of Aadhaar for driver verification.
“The Aadhaar linked security is the next level for paramount security. The driver would not be able to start a journey without punching his Aadhar details. If the data doesn’t match with ours, then we immediately would swing into action and the driver won’t be able to start the journey,” Pahwa said.
“What has happened is very unfortunate and justice should be given to the victim without delay but this business is not just about technology and there is a lot of involvement with people. While background checks would have to be meticulous, all the stakeholders will have to discuss and iron out the existing issues,” Pahwa said.. The debate should not be about radio taxis, app based services etc, but it should be about safety of people, according to the Meru CEO.
Meru Cabs, which has a fleet of over 1000 cars, half of it is owned by the company.
Pahwa explains the issue related to driver behavior. Drivers are migrants in major cities and exposure to a certain lifestyle could take time for some of them to absorb. “So, we had a session with over 15,000 drivers, including those who were not working with Meru, to educate them. This is a service industry and integrity is crucial,” added Pahwa.
Global investors see potential in the radio taxi market, with several cab companies raising mega funds recently, including Uber globally and Ola in India. Ola has raised $ 280 million funds in four rounds including from Japan’s SoftBank, which is an investor for Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba too.
India’s taxi market comprises 600,000 cabs and makes up for annual revenues of Rs 11,000 crore. According to Valoriser Consultants, the sector has been growing at 20 per cent annually. American app-based service, Uber, entered the India market earlier this year, to tap the growth in the industry.