Uber banned in Delhi, but it may still go scot free

It was all good while it was convenient but the Delhi rape case has only exposed the various rules and norms taxi app Uber and some of its competitorsmay have circumvented to become operational in India. In fact, the Delhi government has now issued an order banning the services of Uber India in Delhi, saying it is misleading customers by offering them Taxis with All-India permits that cannot ply in Delhi from point-to-point ferrying customers.

What this means is that taxis plying with Uber in the capital can now be fined and impounded.

Regulators have in the past largely pleadedignorance about the taxi app's operations in India. According to multiple reports, tasked with finding the driver after the rape complaint was registered, the Delhi Police had a senior official download the app, book a cab and ask him to take them to their registered office since no one could find any details about it online.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Madhur Verma told the Indian Express that since the service worked on a pre-paid wallet system he had to spend Rs 200in order to book the cab.

However, that was just the start of their problems. Police then discovered there was no one present in the office apart from two caretakers and the only way to access data about the cab concerned was to get it from the New York office.

Transport officials were also quoted as telling the Indian Express that the service didn't have a rent-a-cab permit which requires them to have adequate parking space for their fleet that must contain a minimum of 50 cabs, and showexperience in the passenger service sector.

As a result, officials now believe that the Uber cabs have been operating illegally since they aren't allowed to drive within a single state with an all India transport permit, and the service has had little procedure for drivers to enrol, barring verification ofa valid transportpermit.

In a statement following the incident, a spokesperson for Uber wrote on the official blogthat they partner "registered for-hire drivers who have undergone the commercial licensing process, hold government issued IDs, state-issued permits, and carry full commercial insurance."

But it's not just Uber, otheronline-based cab services like Ola and TaxiForSure also use the same modelto provide customers with taxis.

Uber has been the subject of protests in countries like the US, UK and Germany where established taxi services argue that the aggregator's drivers aren't required to adhere to the same norms that they have to, giving them an unfair advantage.

The Delhi case has brought out the fact that while registering drivers, services like Uber may not have been really verifying their drivers antecedents and believedthe fact that the driver has a taxi permit as being proof of the fact that he hasn't any criminal history. In the present case as well, Delhi police officials were quoted as telling the media that the service hadn't carried out any verification of the driver and he didn't even have a licence from the Delhi Transport Authority.

While the Delhi government's norms prescribe that radio taxi employees shall be responsible for ensuring drivers are "totally safe, reliable and trustworthy" and have a valid public service badge, services like Uber aren't required to follow it since they aren't a radio taxi service.

Under thenorms stipulated by Delhi's transport authority, the radio taxi licensee is as liable to face punishment as the driver of a vehicle for any crime committed by him, giving them adequate reason to ensure reliability of the drivers.

However,services like Uber again can go around it since theyfall outside the present definition since they claim that they are an 'aggregator' and not a transportation company. The absence of a call centre and crisis handling mechanism also means that the customer has no instant means of even registering a complaint against an errant taxi driver quickly.

As a lawyerwho spoke to the Economic Times pointed out,despite all the outrage in this case there's little that Uber has violated in terms of lawespecially since norms do not specify the extent to which a service like Uber should verify its drivers before registering them.

"The government has to make changes to the Indian Motor Vehicles Act or other such laws laying down minimum legal standards, but nobody seems to be concerned," Baljit Singh Kalha, partner at law firm Titus & Co, told the paper.

The Uber model of 'ride sharing' has been a successacross the world only because it uses technology to circumvent existing norms to make cabs more easily available to travellers. India's legislators, if they ever get down to business in Parliament,may considerthe Draft Road Transport and Safety Bill 2014which deals withpassenger transport through servicesas well. The legislation does consider the existence of aggregators like Uber and says that an appropriate authority can getsuch a service to provide information like the number of services provided, fares and distance covered.

The Delhirape case gives lawmakers additional incentive tomake aggregator services like Uber, that have managed to use loopholes to avoid taking responsibility over issues like driver verification, more liable for such incidents. It may not end such incidents completely, but it could providea greater level of security and accountability that will only benefit the entire sector in the long run.

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Updated Date: Dec 08, 2014 17:35:15 IST

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