Why does safety remain a concern for ride-sharing apps?
Ride-hailing giants across the world are facing pushback from regulatory bodies majorly due to two reasons: unfair competition and safety precautions. In the UK, Uber has now received only a two-month extension with “new conditions to ensure passenger safety” while in Qatar it is facing a block against its acquisition of Careem. In California, Uber is facing a new bill pending the Governor’s signature that will make it harder for Uber to not call its drivers as its employees.
In India, both Uber and Ola are regularly under the spotlight for their safety precautions. While the market itself is more challenging, both of these ride-hailing giants have launched multiple digital security measures that connect passengers to emergency services, an emergency response team, and/or allow passengers to share their live journey details with family and friends.
Ola’s safety measures also include randomly asking its drivers to send selfies in the car to make sure the driver is the same one that is licenced to take the journey. Moreover, other measures of ride-hailing apps like Ola and Uber include sharing clear pictures of the drivers for passengers to make sure they are getting in in the right car with the right driver.
Such measures have also been rolled out in other markets. However, the issue remains that these measures are digital, while crimes happen in the offline world.
In the UAE, safety of customers in RTA taxis has not been a big issue, primarily due to the precautions and background checks carried out by the authority. RTA taxis have two cameras, one pointed at the customers in the back seat, while the other towards the drivers. It also has the emergency contact number and the licence plate number of the taxis etched on metal plates on the inside of the car, which makes it very convenient for customers to pick up the phone and complain should anything go awry. Moreover, the response time has been phenomenally quick, as tested out by SME10X.
Safety for drivers and competing businesses
The other aspect of safety goes beyond physical harm to the customers. It is about job safety and benefits to “employees”, or “freelance drivers” as these ride-hailing giants like to call them.
Across the world, there is pushback from drivers citing unfair and difficult conditions, from the percentage of cut that the drivers get, to the hours they need to do to make ends meet. In the UAE, Careem and Uber drivers reportedly do 20-hour shifts to earn enough to support themselves and their families.
Furthermore, RTA taxi drivers are trained, tested and hired by the authority, helping them make sure the drivers on the streets are safe for customers as well as others on the roads. Drivers told SME10X that they do 12-hour shifts.
The UK authority, Transport for London, regularly receives complaints from the London black cab drivers citing unfair competition. Following Uber’s acquisition of Careem, Egypt’s competition watchdogs issued multiple competition warnings. Qatar has not issued any statement regarding their block on Uber’s acquisition of Careem.
Uber’s stocks have been on the fall since its IPO. Investors are losing faith in their ability to turn a profit. The situation is challenging for almost all ride-hailing apps across the world. The question is, in the face of these challenges, will ride-hailing services do the right thing by giving drivers more rights and benefits, while introducing offline safety features for customers?