Uber faces fire after Delhi rape case

Uber has become an "alternative" way of finding taxis in large cities where it isn't always easy.
Uber has become an “alternative” way of finding taxis in large cities where it isn’t always easy. Google Images, Creative Commons License

In a world that never seems to stop moving, transportation is key. Whether you own a car, opt for taxis, or choose to take buses, it is both a time-consuming and crucial part of many people’s days. A world like this could use transportation services that make things easier for us all. This is the basis for the widely-popular – and controversial – smartphone application, Uber.

Described as a rideshare and taxi-service company, Uber is known to offer lower fees and an easier way to access cabs. The company was founded in San Francisco, where its headquarters currently reside. According to their Twitter account, Uber aims to “connect riders to drivers.” Efficient, fuss-free, and innovative.

Students in Singapore have taken notice of this alternative option for finding taxis.

Adriana Ballas, junior, said, “I use Uber all the time and I know a lot of friends who do too. It’s always been a good experience because it’s really efficient.” When asked about the issue of safety, Ballas said, “My parents aren’t really concerned about the safety factors, but I could see why some parents would be. The taxis don’t have an official Uber logo or sign.”

Uber uses unregistered vehicles for most of its operations. It is this tactic which is responsible for the company’s explosive success, but has also made it susceptible to controversy.

On Dec. 6, a 25-year-old female executive for a Delhi-based company was raped by an Uber driver. After attending a party in South Delhi, she used Uber to call a cab, reportedly dozing off on the way home. It was then that driver Shiv Kumar Yadav took her to a secluded area, assaulted and raped her. The accused driver was found the next morning and is in jail until his next court appearance on Dec. 24.

After criticism of lack of screening procedures and background checks, Uber was banned in Delhi. The New York Times reported that regional authorities “followed up” on the case, by banning all transportation services offered by applications similar to Uber. This isn’t the first time the increasingly-popular service has been banned. Earlier this year, Uber was banned in Thailand and Vietnam, in addition to many cities in Germany. While business threats to local taxi services may have prompted this, safety issues played a role.

Thousands of taxi drivers protested against Uber in July 2014. Image from Flickr.
Thousands of taxi drivers protested against Uber in July 2014. Image by David Holt. Creative Commons License.

Here in Singapore, however, Uber is on its way to becoming the preferred choice of taxi service. Many students, including ones at SAS, are opting to use the application over other taxi companies. Safety does not seem to be a big concern.

Junior Hannah Horowitz said, “I think a lot of people’s main concern is the possibility of getting into a car with a bad driver or a criminal, but the app tracks your car so members of your family with the same account can see where you are at all times. I’ve personally never felt unsafe getting into an Uber car.”

Uber relies on government documents and an apparently thorough three-step screening process of its drivers. On its website, Uber emphasizes the importance of safety for all its riders: “Every ridesharing and livery driver is thoroughly screened through a rigorous process we’ve developed using constantly improving standards.” In a blog post on Dec. 11, written by the Uber team in Delhi, they acknowledge that they “must do better.”

Despite such statements, the crime was still committed. Uber promises safety as its priority, but their point can now be refuted. This incident brought forward a pressing question: how can Uber’s practices ensure safety?

Mallika Dutt, CEO of human rights organization Breakthrough, points out that banning Uber does not mean women of Delhi are any safer. In an editorial for Time Magazine, Dutt said, “Uber is just one of the many places and spaces in which violence against women presents itself.” According to the article, 92% of women in Delhi have experienced sexual harassment on public transportation.

This is not the first rape case in India which has caused regional and international outrage. Delhi in particular has been dubbed the rape capital of the country, especially following the infamous 2012 rape cape. What was most concerning about this issue is the role of a taxi service that has shown tremendous growth and innovative thinking. Surprisingly, large Indian cities such as Kolkata and Mumbai continue to have Uber functioning.

Delhi, the capital city of India, has long been in media spotlight for its women's safety issues. Image from Flickr.
Delhi, the capital city of India, has long been in media spotlight for its women’s safety issues. Image by Arian Zwegers. Creative Commons License.

Uber’s rise in India has resulted in many working young Indian women using it for convenience. In an article for Quartz India, the author writes, “Many women in Delhi, which does not have a 24-hour metro service, had come to rely on taxi-booking services such as Uber or Ola to provide a safe transportation at night.”

Raghav Bhandari, a working professional based in India, said, “I know a few women who started using the application in Delhi. At first, Uber only had fancy cars and they felt perfectly safe in them. Prices were the same or below that of local taxis.”

Here in Singapore, Uber has gained a loyal fanbase, but local taxi drivers have protested the use of private vehicles. Companies such as Grab Taxi do not employ these methods, and are in firm competition with Uber. The rape allegation and ensuing case has now set Uber one step behind in its seemingly-unstoppable progress.

A taxi driver who is choosing to remain anonymous said, “I haven’t seen too much change because of Uber. Comfort Cabs and the other main companies are still being used. Maybe this will change at some point, since Uber is appealing to youth.”

Ballas said, “In this case, Uber is definitely responsible for the rape incident, because people who pay for the taxis are trusting Uber with a lot.”

In what is an admirable – and much needed – goal, Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick has promised to utilize the company to help make New Delhi “a safer city for women.” In a statement released on Uber’s website on Sunday, the team states, “Our thoughts remain with the victim who has shown tremendous courage under the circumstances.” Their main Twitter account, as well as international ones, have tweets expressing their condolences.

However, the fact remains that Uber has lost credibility, perhaps even respect, in this recent turn of events. The company, as the New York Times suggests, is getting ready to put up a fight. One of India’s leading newspapers, Hindustan Times, has headlines blaring, “Uber’s image takes a big hit.”

Author: Meera Navlakha

Meera Navlakha has been a part of the Eye staff since sophomore year and has taken journalism all four years of high school. Currently a senior, she has been at SAS for eight years but is originally from India. Apart from journalism, she loves reading, going to brunch and re-watching episodes of her favorite shows. She can be contacted at navlakha33816@sas.edu.sg.

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