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Uber to introduce ‘panic button’ safety feature in India

Taxi service company Uber is set to launch two features in India, including an online "panic button" in light of recent safety concerns.

By: Press Trust of India | Mumbai | February 7, 2015 12:57:27 pm

Amid safety concerns, Taxi service company Uber is set to launch two features in India, including a “panic button”, after an Indian woman was allegedly raped in New Delhi by a driver working for the firm.

Uber’s General Manager for Mumbai, Shailesh, in a blog post, said beginning February 11, Uber will launch an in-app panic (SOS) button that would allow a rider to alert the local police at the push of a button in case of an emergency.

It will also introduce a safety net feature, which would allow users to easily share their trip details and real-time location with up to five friends and family members.

“Our goal is to make Uber the safest place in the city. To do this, we will continue to leverage our technology and operational scale to deliver rides that bring unprecedented transparency and accountability to your transportation experience,” Shailesh said.

He said a user will be able to activate the easily accessible in-app panic button with a single tap.

The company said it has established a dedicated local ‘Incident Response Team’ that oversees and responds to incidents against property and person reported by riders and will also receive a notification, in addition to the local police, when the in-app panic button is pressed.

It said the specialised team which would assist local law enforcement officers during distress situations has completedan extensive training programme by the company’s US safety experts and would be reachable 24×7.

Earlier this week, Uber had launched a nationwide third party driver screening programme in India with First Advantage, a global firm specialising in background checks.

Uber said it was an important step in building an industry first background check process for every one of the many thousands of driver-partners on the Uber platform in India.

The various safety measures being put in place by Uber come after a woman in New Delhi accused an Uber driver of raping her in December last year as she boarded the taxi to gohome late in the evening.

The young woman hired prominent New York attorney Douglas Wigdor and has filed a lawsuit against Uber in California seeking unspecified damages, alleging that Uber does not adequately screen its drivers.

Wigdor has lashed out at the company, saying its focus on “bottom line” over the safety of its passengers has resulted in “what can only be described as modern day electronic hitchhiking.”

The blog post was written in response to reports that the Mumbai’s transport department plans to recommend to the state government to ban Uber’s mobile phone app since the company have not implemented new security measures.

Shailesh said, Uber invites the Mumbai Transportation Department to discuss these safety issues before “prescribing a unilateral standard across the board; standards that are not conversant with the ground realities of technology enabled transportation systems.”

In the blog post, the Uber executive reasoned why the company is launching an online panic button instead of installing physical panic buttons in the cars driven by its drivers and partners.

Uber said physical panic buttons “cause confusion and are prone to wear and tear.”

As a technology company, Uber does not own cars or employ drivers but partners with independent contractors who are licensed to provide commercial transportation by the government. The drivers are free to work with other operators also.

Uber said a driver who works on four platforms would need to have four physical panic buttons in the car.

In a situation of distress the rider would have to pick the correct operator’s panic button to be able to get help ontime, a move which has only a “25 per cent chance of success;and a decision that has to be made and executed in a split-second, if at all.”

“In addition to causing confusion, we found that not onlyare physical buttons prone to wear and tear, but alsomechanical malfunctions. There is no way to ensure that theyare kept in working condition across all the cars in thecity,” the company said.

Uber said in the “broader interest of rider safety and our efforts to work with the authorities”, it is willing to install physical buttons if there is only one physical panic button in each car, the duty to install the button is on theowner of the vehicle and pressing the button calls the local police directly, since they are best positioned to react to a law and order situation.

“We believe that this is the most pragmatic method to install such buttons, and Uber will be happy to fund a singular panic button in the car of an existing or interested prospective driver-partner on the Uber platform,” it said.

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