“We show respect for women,” added the soft-spoken S Rama Mohan as an afterthought as this reporter got off an Uber car on Saturday afternoon. In the last one month, Uber has provided training on how to interact with women customers to Mohan — who was overtly courteous throughout the ride — and to thousands of its drivers like him. The service was banned in early December post an alleged rape of a finance executive by a driver on its network. The company returned to the roads on Friday after it applied for a license under the amended Radio Taxi laws.
Both, Uber’s drivers and its customers have hailed the return of the company, which has put in significant effort to beef up its security checks post the rape incident. However, the fact that Uber decided to restart the operations without waiting for the license to be awarded (which could be just weeks away) and the ban to be lifted has irked the transport authorities. Orders have been given to impound the vehicles plying through the Uber network in Delhi till it receives a formal approval to operate. Mohan, however, is not aware of this fact. He chooses to stop his vehicle next to a Delhi police patrolling jeep without any alarm.
Perhaps, he knows there is nothing much to worry about. Though the transport department has instructed its officials to confiscate the vehicle, one official says, “The much larger force -– that of the police department -– is not doing much to enforce the ban.”
The much smaller force of the transport department – around 200 people-— will do what it can to address the breach, the official added.
Uber declined to comment on the comments of the transport department. The department on the contrary said that there is nothing new to communicate. “The ban orders are already in place and they have not been revoked as yet,” the official added.
Meanwhile, Uber’s domestic counterpart Ola Cabs also applied for a license on Saturday.
Like Uber, which chose to apply for the license under a different subsidiary called Resource Expert India, Ola has also applied via Apra Cabs India Pvt Ltd. The strategy seems to have been prompted by the fact that under the new regulations, the taxi operator will be jointly as well as individually be liable in case an unfortunate incident happens via any of the vehicles on its network. “The subsidiary will ensure limited liability and not for the company as a whole,” said the official.
As far as meeting the new norms of the amended regulations are concerned, Uber has chosen to be partially compliant. While it has got on board some new cars on its fleet which run on clean fuel or Compressed Natural Gas and follow all the new mandates such as installing the panic button and having Uber’s name on both sides of the car, the rest of the fleet continues to run on diesel or petrol and is still missing on most of the required features.
When questioned, the company chose to be silent on this aspect as well.
It has been learnt that Uber is looking at a fourth option of booking radio taxis which will make the taxis in the city available on the app. Currently, Uber offers three services in India — its premium service Uber Black, the mid-market UberX and the low-end UberGo. The fourth option could bring on board the so-called Kaali Peelis in Delhi through the Uber app. In other countries like Singapore and New York, it operates through this model. For instance, it charges a booking charge of $ 2 for calling a taxi in New York while it takes a 20 per cent commission on other vehicles.
The company continues to argue that it is better regulated under the Information Technology legislation as it is a technology platform that connects drivers with passengers. However, it is unclear if offering the Radio taxi option will make its case any stronger. Despite the many questions that remain unanswered and the continuing tussle with the transport department, Uber is back on the Delhi roads for now.
“We have been asked to put these stickers (Uber) on both the sides and the panic button has been installed. I have tested it, and it works. If you press the button, I’ll get a call and you will either get a call or a message almost instantly. Good that Uber started the service again. We had suffered in the past few weeks, and so (did) our income. Why should everyone pay the price for just one’s wrong doing?” said Umesh Singh, independent car owner on the Uber network who has attached his CNG car to the Uber network. Mohan, on the other hand, claims that he is on the network of most other taxi aggregators but has chosen to work with only Uber. “They call us partners, never driver… even in the messages they send us, it is written partner, not driver… I will only work with them,” goes off Mohan.