The kidnapping of an Ola rider by one of the drivers on its platform is prompting ride-hailing companies to implement more stringent processes while signing up new drivers and may force the companies to curb expansion to ensure passenger safety, say analysts and company executives.
The incident is seen as the biggest threat to the expansion of cab-hailing services in India after the rape of a woman Uber rider in December 2014 forced the company and Ola (ANI Technologies Pvt. Ltd) to be stricter about their driver verification processes, add an SOS button on their apps and generally pay more attention to passenger safety.
A 29-year-old doctor in Delhi was kidnapped by an Ola driver and his accomplices on 6 July and held captive for nearly 14 days before the police found the victim, who was unhurt, in Uttar Pradesh and arrested four of the kidnappers.
The Ola driver had asked for a ransom of Rs5 crore from the company.
The driver had forged papers to sign up with Ola and kidnapped the first rider assigned to the cab, two people familiar with the matter said. Over the past two weeks, executives at Ola have been living in fear of a backlash from riders and regulators, the people said.
“The kidnapping is a wake-up call for the industry. While it would have been impossible to have anticipated such an event, it shows that there are many gaps in the system that can be exploited. Driver verification needs to be a lot more strict and it’s possible Ola and Uber may have to vet their existing drivers too. This is potentially more serious because it has given criminals a completely new way to make money. Both companies will need to be a lot more careful in on-boarding drivers. That will hit growth," one of the people said on condition of anonymity.
“We are extremely relieved on the safe return of Dr. Sreekanth Goud from the hands of the kidnapper. The last few days have been extremely stressful for Dr. Sreekanth and his family. We extend our good wishes and prayers to the family in this time of joyful reunion. We are grateful for the enormous effort and degree of diligence from the police who have helped in Dr. Sreekanth’s safe return. We continue to cooperate with the police in their investigations, to ensure that the culprits are brought to justice. We will also continue to support and assist the family to help them fully recover from the aftershocks of this harrowing crime," an Ola spokesperson said in a statement on Thursday.
Uber said it has a “stringent process" for signing up drivers.
“To begin with, driver partners must be able to provide valid documents before getting on board. Post this, we conduct a mandatory soft skill training that enables them to offer riders a great experience," an Uber spokesperson said in a statement.
Experts said it will be tricky for companies to root out errant drivers.
“Background verification, while extremely effective for white-collar jobs, is impractical when it comes to blue-collar workers; government protocols are not foolproof," said Mohit Bahl, head of forensics at KPMG.
“What companies need to do is increase awareness exercises among drivers and riders. Companies need to take a zero-tolerance stance when it comes to taking action against drivers who get 1-star or 2-star or no ratings—which are all clear indicators of problems with rides. Companies need to set a code of conduct and a set of ethics and that needs to come right from the top," Bahl said.