Newspaper article International New York Times

Ban on Uber Puts Burden on Travelers

Newspaper article International New York Times

Ban on Uber Puts Burden on Travelers

Article excerpt

Uber is staying put, and by making it illicit, the government has probably relieved the company of the pressure to ensure the safety of its users.

There is never a bad time to state a plain fact. Uber is a greater friend of urban women in India than the government ever was. Over the past several months, women have taken to the smartphone app with enthusiasm. They grade the drivers and convey to Uber their compliments -- and their complaints about bad manners and body odor.

Many rate the Uber experience higher than sitting in their own chauffeur-driven cars because the relationship between the driver in front and the female employer in back is often filled with the chauffeur's melancholic stories about the health of his children, which lead to requests for loans and time off from work. And there is the issue of his judgmental gaze at her clothes and ways. Also, as he spends most of his day playing cards with other drivers, he passes on a considerable amount of information about his employer -- information that is sometimes tapped by the neighbors.

Uber's drivers, on the other hand, are transient and have no incentive to whine. And, until Friday night, they were considered very safe. An Uber driver told me that they were considered so safe that boyfriends "could drink and dance with" their girlfriends "all night and didn't have to drop them home -- they just put them in Uber."

All that changed on Friday night. A young woman in New Delhi has alleged that she was raped by an Uber driver. After her complaint, the police could not figure out how to contact a human from Uber until an officer downloaded the app and used it to hail a car. He asked the driver to take him to Uber's office. It would be hours before the police got any useful information. The man accused of rape was eventually detained. It turned out that he had been accused of the same crime at least twice before, but was acquitted in one case and granted bail in the other.

Most of Uber's cabs in India are run through third-party contractors who own and manage fleets of cars. They are required by Uber to check their drivers' backgrounds, a process that mostly involves procuring a certificate from the police stating that the person in question has no criminal record -- a largely meaningless exercise because such certification is routinely obtained through bribes of less than $10. …

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