Uber, the trendy San Francisco-based rideshare company, is being sued for negligence and fraud following an alleged rape in New Delhi last December. The victim, who is going by the moniker “Jane Doe” in order to protect her identity, claims that her ordeal was a direct result of Uber’s “hollow marketing tactics and disregard for customer safety”, and she says that the company places more emphasis on promotion and profit than on screening its drivers.
Founded in 2009, Uber is an app-based transportation network that connects passengers with drivers in over 200 cities around the world. If you need to go somewhere but don’t have access to a car, the app can hook you up with a ride with the simple press of a button. In many cities, anyone with a valid license and registered vehicle can become a driver, and it’s this lack of screening that poses the greatest risks to potential passengers.
In most cities, criminal background checks are mandatory for potential taxi drivers—since the drivers will be carting others around (including those who may be inebriated or otherwise vulnerable), taxi companies screen them in order to ensure passenger safety. Although Uber supposedly does extensive background checks on drivers in the USA and Canada, safety measures in other countries where the service is available don’t seem to be so stringent. In India, for example, it appears that there are gaping holes in the screening process, which only seems to require valid vehicle registration. In this case, the alleged rapist, Shiv Kamar Yadav, has an extensive criminal record including assault and rape. It’s believed that he signed up for Uber under an assumed name.
The lawsuit against Uber has brought to light the fact that the company takes little to no responsibility for the drivers registered in their network. Once a passenger requests a ride, Uber directs the nearest driver to them (and charges a fee if the ride is cancelled) – however Uber claims it isn’t culpable for whatever happens between pick-up and drop-off. This isn’t the first time that an Uber driver has assaulted a female passenger – although charges were laid after a Chicago incident, little action was taken in the Washington, DC case.
As more people take steps to be more eco-conscious in their daily lives, rideshare programs such as Uber can be of great benefit to both travellers and the environment. The key issue is how to make these programs safer for everyone involved.
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