It was supposed to be the safe choice for a young woman in Delhi after dark: Hail a private car via Uber’s mobile app rather than brave the bus or a traditional cab. India had been on edge after a series of high-profile, violent rapes, and Uber’s savvy marketing campaign promised them peace of mind.
But the company was signing up drivers without conducting background checks of its own, while running operations out of a suite of hotels rooms in Gurgaon, near Delhi.
Now, following the rape of an Uber passenger on her way home from work on December 8, Uber is introducing a formal background check for drivers, along with fraud checks on driver and vehicle permits and character verification by local law enforcement. The driver in the December case had previously been detained for seven months after he was charged with raping and kidnapping a female passenger while working for another taxi service in 2011. It’s unclear why that incident did not affect his commercial taxi permit, which the state says it issues after looking at drivers’ criminal histories and traffic violations.
Delhi regional authorities banned Uber and over a dozen other ride-hailing apps from operating following outcry over the rape. A Change.org petition launched by a New Delhi woman, who called on Uber to “stop the double standards” and conduct seven-year background checks (as it does in the U.S.), garnered more than 63,000 signatures.
Also in December, an Uber driver in Massachusetts was charged with rape and kidnapping, prompting the company’s security chief to say in a blog post that he would “build new safety programs and intensify others.” The victim in the Delhi case plans to sue the company in U.S. courts.
Indian officials had previously tussled with Uber over the startup’s flouting of the country’s two-step payments verification. Moving the payment process into the background is core to the Uber experience–customers simply exit the car after arriving at their destination–and the company at first refused to compromise on that model, choosing instead to route its payments through international gateways. But Indian officials, deeply irritated by that defiance, have since closed the loophole.
[via New York Times]