The Delhi government is considering cancelling Uber’s permission to operate in Delhi, and may issue a notice to inform citizens that the international cab-booking service is “unauthorised”.
The controversial San Fancisco-headquartered company, in one of whose vehicles a 27-year-old executive was allegedly beaten and raped on Friday night, has been struggling with regulatory and operational issues ever since it entered India a year ago.
Uber, which operates in over 200 cities across the world, putting passengers in touch with cab drivers through a smartphone App, is yet to comply fully with rules laid down by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
In Delhi, multiple sources said, Uber does not have a rent-a-cab service permit, only an All India Tourist Permit.
This means, Transport department officials said, that the service was not authorised to operate within a particular state. The Transport department issues 11 kinds of permits to commercial vehicles. An applicant for a rent-a-cab permit must, among other things, have adequate parking space, experience of the passenger transport business, and a fleet of at least 50 cabs, half of which should be air-conditioned.
“They (Uber) have tied up with some cabbies, who have decided to drive for them on their own. The company has been operating in an unauthorised way,” a senior official said. The official added the Delhi government would now scrutinise the permits of all private taxi services.
Unlike other radio or digital taxi companies in India, Uber, which operates through a mobile application (or App), does not have a call centre to interact with customers, and does not provide phone numbers that customers can call. It operates entirely in a virtual world except for the car and the driver, whom no one seems to know.
The only entry into this secretive and opaque operation seems to be through a feedback form, which can be of limited help in emergencies.
Uber has three employees in every city it operates in. A spokesperson for the company declined to provide the names, phone numbers or other details of these individuals. Physically, the closest spokesperson authorised to speak on Uber’s operations in India is based in Singapore.
When contacted in Singapore, the spokesperson, Karun Arya, Uber’s communications head for South Asia, said in an email that “every driver partner goes through an in-person interview/on boarding process, and all details are verified before they can become a driver partner”. The company did not say, however, whether it insists on a police verification of drivers.
On whether Uber had a call centre, the spokesperson said by email, “No call centre. But they (customers) can send in feedback/complaints on multiple channels — in-App after the ride, email (reply to their receipt), through our website, or Twitter.”
The Mathura man involved in Friday night’s incident had been driving without the mandatory police check, and the vehicle did not have the mandatory GPS system.
The much talked about Uber App lacks in security features. The only instrument tracking a cab is the phone that has the App, which can be simply switched off — and the App is dead as soon as the car enters a zone with patchy 3G network. The company’s servers are in the US.
“In the Meru App, when you click the option of ICE alert, two people close to you will get alerts about your location and details of the car. Names and numbers of these people are already fed into the sytsem while signing up. So your journey will be safe,” Sidhartha Pahwa, CEO of Meru Cabs, said.
On the regulatory front, RBI last week rejected Uber’s plea to extend the deadline for compliance by 45 days, an RBI official said. Under RBI’s two-step authentication process, companies need to doublecheck the identity of their online customers. Uber users’ credit cards were earlier automatically charged at the end of the journey, a cashless payment method that was stopped after RBI insisted on a two-step authentication process for all card transactions.
RBI had said in August said Uber’s method of payment was breaking rules, and given the firm until October 31 to add another layer of security. After Uber requested an extension, the deadline was pushed to November 30.
In a post on its blog on November 30, Uber said it had complied with the RBI’s August 22, 2014 circular requiring every credit card transaction made with an Indian credit card to include two-stage authentication.
However, it asked for another 45 days, saying, “We would welcome an additional 45-day extension from the RBI that would give the majority of our existing riders sufficient time to transition over to a new two step-compliant payment system.” This additional time would prevent consumers from being disadvantaged, and protect partner-drivers who rely on Uber’s riders as their sole source of income, the company said.
Uber said in the blog that it had complied with RBI’s circular requiring every credit card transaction made with an Indian credit card to include two-step authentication. “While we believe this requirement is unnecessary and burdensome, we have engaged in constructive discussions with the RBI and are committed to working with the Indian government to advance regulations that support innovation and job creation,” it said.
To use Uber, clients need to download the App on their mobile phones and create an account along with their credit card details. While calling a cab, the pick-up location and desired car type can be fed into the App, which connects the passenger with the nearest available cabbie.
In India, besides Delhi, Uber operates in Bangalore, Chennai, Jaipur, Kochi, Pune, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Mumbai.