On April 21, a female architect booked a bike taxi from her residence in Yelahanka at around 11.10 p.m. to travel to Indiranagar. What followed next was a ride which made her decide that she would not hail a bike taxi again.
On the pretext of checking OTP, the rider, who was later identified by police as Deepak Rao, snatched her phone and allegedly sexually harassed her. While the woman resisted, the rider started to go in a direction different from the one he was supposed to take. To avoid further trouble, the woman jumped off the speeding bike and injured herself. Later, Rao was nabbed by the police.
Speaking to The Hindu, a close friend of the victim said that better accountability and security were the need of the hour for the safety of the womenfolk during the night hours. “She had been hailing bike taxis for a long time in Kolkata before she moved to Bengaluru, even as late as 11.30-12 in the night. Even here, she had hailed bike taxis several times, but this one incident was traumatising.”
The friend further said that taxi aggregator companies should conduct better background verification of drivers to avoid such incidents. “No one takes lifts from random bikes on the road. It is because of these riders’ association with certain brands that we hail them. Yet, such problems occur. It would have also been more beneficial if there were more CCTV cameras and police personnel present on the Doddaballapur Road (where the incident occurred) as then, the rider might not have done something like this,” they said.
“Needless to say, she is heavily traumatised and will not be hailing another bike taxi ride in a long time,” the friend concluded. This one incident sent shockwaves throughout the city and brought to light many problems associated with hailing these “affordable, quick yet scary” carriers. After this and a similar incident which occurred a few months ago, many women have stopped taking bike taxis altogether, while others have grown apprehensive and vigilant.
Apart from the fear of harassment, what scares travellers the most is the rash riding habits of the riders or captains as they are identified by some brands. “I am usually scared to sit on two-wheeler taxis as they want to manoeuvre even an inch gap on roads. They speed very often and do not listen to us even when we request them to slow down. Especially post 9 p.m., many are scared to take bike taxis as they ride very rashly. The captains are also not feedback friendly and lash out at us if we ask them to slow down,” said Apurba Banerjee, a PR professional from Vasanthnagar.
Ms. Banerjee was one among the many people who preferred bike taxis as they were easily available. However, these days, responsiveness is not what it used to be, frequent users said. “As my office is only three kilometres from my residence, auto rickshaws were not accepting rides, but I used to get bike taxis all the time. Now, I only get it three out of five times,” Ms. Banerjee said.
Some other women also listed other issues they have faced while hailing bike taxis. “I feel very uncomfortable sitting on bikes which have pillion seats on a higher level as I would almost have to lean against the driver. Additionally, they also do not have quality helmets in case of anything untoward happens. I have also noticed that sometimes riders peep or stare at us through their mirrors,” said Nidhi M., an engineer.
The women also said sometimes, the bike captains randomly drop them off around 750 metres to a kilometre away or refuse to come to the pickup spot and ask the travellers to walk the same distance if there is traffic or sometimes, even without any reasons.
Not just women, but even men have their fair share of problems with bike taxis. “There have been multiple instances where the number plate/model of the bike I received was different from what was shown on the app. This plays with the trust factor. Also, when there is a lot of traffic, it is problematic how rashly these riders go. My reason to take these bikes is mainly because of its low prices and easy availability, but it is not without its cons,” said Parimal Saraf, a student from Koramangala.
Not all drivers the same
Speaking about the recent incidents, he said that a few bad apples bring down the quality of the whole basket. “Some people like them do such bad things and then bring a bad name to all of us. As riders, we also have to deal with these stereotypes now. Especially with people from other States, where there is a language barrier, a slight miscommunication could lead to bigger misconceptions,” he explained.
Safety measures in place claims Rapido
In response to the queries on checking the antecedents of riders and the safety of women travellers, a spokesperson of Rapido said, “Any person willing to onboard with Rapido as a captain has to upload his Aadhaar, driving licence, valid registration certificate for his vehicle, and bank account details. The said documents are verified at the backend by Rapido Support through various government portals. The documents uploaded by the captain are shared with a third-party vendor for background verification of the captain, who raises any red flag post-verification of documents. In case of any red flag, the captain is not onboarded on the Rapido app. The process of verifying criminal antecedents is done through e-courts. There are agencies who help us do this since they have mined the data at e-courts over the years and still keep updating it and thus have created their own vaults/databases through which they are able to do these checks based on name, address, father name, etc.”
For the safety of those using the service at night, the aggregator has claimed that the feature of “Night Rides Check” will be helpful. “For those riders who take rides between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Any rider (customer) who uses Rapido during this time period will be contacted by the Rapido call centre for a safety check post the completion of the ride,” the spokesperson said.
Other safety features in the app include sharing trip status with the near ones, masking contact of the women booking the ride, and sharing information about the captain and others. The aggregator also claims that both captain and customers are given insurance cover.
When contacted, Uber, which also provides bike taxi services, offered no response.