Transport chief, Uber differ over panic button in cabs

MUMBAI: Uber and the transport department are on a collision course on the installation of panic buttons in cabs.

Transport commissioner Mahesh Zagade had made it mandatory for private taxis to have the switch near the passenger’s seat but Uber felt the buttons will “cause confusion and are prone to wear and tear”.

Uber general manager (Mumbai) Shailesh Sawlani said, “As a technology company, Uber does not own cars nor employs drivers. We partner with independent contractors who are licensed to provide commercial transportation by the government. The drivers are free to work with other operators too. If you enter the vehicle of a driver who works on four platforms, the car will need four buttons. In case of distress, the rider will have to pick the correct operator’s panic button for help.”

He pointed out that there was 25% chance of success of such switches. “The buttons, besides being prone to wear and tear, may malfunction. It is not practically feasible,” he stated. Zagade has been repeatedly telling operators to install the switch but only 2% cabs on roads have them. The deadline is March 15.

Sawlani said, “We are willing to install panic buttons, only if there is one switch, and the onus to install them is on the cab owner.” Sources said the transport chief was upset with the recent interaction with Uber representatives and felt they don’t want to accept responsibility for passenger safety. His office, in fact, felt the government must ban the Uber mobile app.

Sawlani said Uber rides were safe, GPS-enabled and tracked in real time. “We are launching an in-app panic (SOS) button and a safety net feature for users to share trip details and real-time location with five friends/relatives. We have set up a local incident response team which will receive a notification when the in-app button is pressed.”

He said, “Uber is not authorized (unlike the police), staffed nor trained to enforce law and order when the situation demands.” But it will provide cops trip details in an emergency. “Our goal is to make Uber the safest place in the city,” Sawlani added.