The incident in Delhi in a cab last week was unfortunate and shameful to say the least. Coming in the wake of a series of similar incidents, it highlights the fact that our society is still a long way from becoming completely safe for women. Strangely, when my colleague and I set out to start TaxiForSure, our only objective was to provide a safe and reliable taxi service. As the dust settles, I am confident that the focus will return to enhancing safety.
I recall an incident in April 2005 when a few ex-employees of a BPO Company in Pune had obtained credit card details of customers in the US and stolen money from their international bank accounts. This incident led to much distrust and the entire BPO industry and government agencies in India were critised by the US media. What followed was that the company concerned, and the industry as a whole, worked closely with NASSCOM and the government in strengthening their information security processes, giving the industry new shape, direction and credibility.
The lesson in this for me was that an industry that is fundamentally sound, dedicated to solving problems of customers, and in the process providing an honest living to thousands of people, WILL bounce back if they take this in the right spirit. .
I personally do not feel upset or angry about some of the actions that the authorities have initiated. What does bother me a little is a lack of awareness of what the industry is attempting to do and I wish to address that with this piece.
Terms like “App based taxi services” or “Web based taxi services” have been used as if these services were inherently unsafe. This is implicit in the bans on such services. App, Web or Phones are just channels for booking a taxi. The booking channel does not in itself make a service safe or unsafe. The same provider can offer multiple channels for booking. We offer all three channels for booking - a call center in every city where we operate, web and app booking.
An App-based booking actually enhances the safety multi fold as the taxi can be tracked by the passenger or by a friend. When a passenger at TaxiForSure books a taxi through the phone, the passenger would not be able to track the taxi but the call center would be able to. In a traditional taxi or auto service without an App or a GPS, tracking can happen only through the customer’s phone. These inherent advantages doesn’t mean that there isn’t more we can do to increase the safety of our customers. What do you call a company that employs 1200 plus people, runs full-fledged branches with call centers in several cities across India, and tracks taxi movements from a central control room in the city? Calling such a company an app based taxi provider would be totally incorrect. Technology gives a company like ours an edge in helping our partners run their fleets efficiently. However, our employees are there to ensure multiple human interfaces with customers and partners. Technology and people go hand in hand in our business by complementing each other’s capabilities.
How do I see our industry evolve from here?
- The leaders in this space will go beyond what is stipulated by the law in ensuring safety and view what they need to do not as a cost but as a core component of the service. More and more customers will value safety and will look for it.
- Technology will continue to help optimize taxi fleets which in turn will deliver cheaper rides to commuters.
- Urban commute will be simplified. All taxis and auto-rickshaws would come under an aggregation model where technology enhances efficiency, availability, reliability, and above all, safety. This would result in lesser people driving their own cars to work everyday. Furthermore, bookings will be done by App and most taxis will have App based tracking mechanisms.
What taxi companies need to do?
- Install sophisticated GPS devices in every vehicle. At TaxiForSure, we already have phone based GPS in every vehicle, but given the fact that a driver can discard the device in the event of some trouble, we have taken a decision to install a sophisticated GPS device that is difficult to tamper with or dismantle.
- Mandatory police verification for every driver every year.
- Documents and Permits to be all in place and reviewed periodically for compliance
- Introduce additional safety features powered by technology and supported by a human element. At TaxiForSure, we are updating our App to provide foolproof features that would come as close to guaranteeing safety as could be humanly be possible.
The support that industry would need from the government is really two-fold:
- Strengthen the process of police verification. We recognize that data bases in India and linking of records is still work in progress, and hence understand the difficulty that the government and police departments face. They can seek the help of large technology companies to partner them And these companies would gladly be a part of solving one of India’s biggest problems. As technologies and economic engines evolve, the regulatory framework needs to keep pace with the new paradigms. The government and the companies that are a part of the new age economy should sit together and come up with a regulatory framework that is designed around safety and ease of doing business in an environment of mutual trust.
I personally believe that when industry leaders come together with the country’s governing bodies to address burning issues of the nation, the result will only be positive and beneficial for the people of our country.
G Raghunandan is the co-founder and CEO of TaxiForSure.