Kuldeep Thakur, the driver who was shot dead this week by Uber passengers, was the sole breadwinner for his wife and three children
The killing of an Uber driver by two teenagers in Delhi raises questions about the safety of taxi apps and whether there should be a mandatory call center support where either the driver or the passenger can call Uber in case of a scuffle while on trip.
In India’s urban cities where physical space on the roads is getting limited by the day due to the increasing number of cars, violence is becoming a norm for some to get things solved instantly. During the course of heated arguments, few find time to shoot an email and wait for an Uber official to revert.
In the recent murder case, the Uber passengers asked the driver to take multiple detours which led to an argument.
Uber currently provides its passengers with email, in-app, and social media customer support. However, in cases where a driver or passenger are having an argument over a route, it’s always best for a third person to intervene instantaneously – which should ideally be an official from the company, whom both parties trust.
An Uber driver recounts his tale
I had a chat with an Uber driver yesterday. “I had a heated argument with a female journalist from one of India’s top national newspapers. She was getting late for an assignment and she asked me to overspeed in traffic, which I refused to,” he said on a condition of anonymity. “She even used cuss words at me. I had to keep quiet as I have a family to look after,” he said. He is in his 50s.
Kuldeep Thakur, the driver who was shot dead this week by Uber passengers, was also 51 years old. He was the sole breadwinner for his wife and three children.
A female executive in Delhi who was raped by an Uber driver in December 2014 tried to contact the police first after the incident, then Uber as there was no inbuilt call center helpline. Uber introduced a panic button on its app after that incident.
A woman friend told me that there’s an inherent mistrust which kicks in a paranoia while one’s traveling in a cab with a stranger. She recalled one of her recent Uber rides. “I was getting late for a flight and the Delhi roads were jam-packed. The driver thus took a different, longer route. I started shouting but he made me reach the airport on time. Then, I realized my fault,” she admitted.
A 24×7 call center to soothe tempers
Non-app based taxis have to have a 24×7 call center as per Indian state laws to solve customer queries. Laws for app-based taxis are yet to be defined by many Indian states. Uber’s biggest rival Ola does have a helpline for customer complaints. However, it stopped taking bookings on call center a few months ago.
After the 2014 rape incident, drivers registered with app based taxi providers often get banned if a passenger complains of verbal or physical abuse. So drivers often shy away from complaining about an unruly passenger.
Usual scuffles in India between drivers and passengers happen over issues such as fare (apps also accept cash payments leading to disputes), routing, over-speeding, and unwillingness to carry out trip on a certain route.
Uber does not use call centers as a customer support mechanism in any part of the world. However, India is different, and here such crimes and killings may land the company in further regulatory trouble. The company was banned to operate in Delhi and the government even tried to block its IP address.
In February, Uber announced a $50 million proposed investment in a center in Hyderabad, which will house a team of over 500 customer service specialists by the end of 2016. The center will provide 24/7 assistance to both riders and driver partners.
However, the call center is yet to become operational for users in most Indian cities.
Rapid deployment of the 24×7 call center support by the $61 billion company for both drivers and users can save many lives in India’s urban cities where road rage and ensuing crimes are soaring.
Editing by Malavika Velayanikal and Meghna Rao
This post was originally published on Tech in Asia.
Featured image credit: YouTube