Uber to tighten driver screening after alleged Delhi rape

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Uber plans to tighten the screening of its drivers after an outcry over the alleged rape of a woman passenger last week in Delhi by a company driver.

The company, whose service has already been banned in Delhi by the local transport department, was however short on details.

“We are evaluating additional screening options to include background checks on all our driver partners in India above and beyond what is currently required,” Uber said in a blog post late Thursday.

India’s federal Home Minister Rajnath Singh said earlier this week that his ministry was advising states to ban Web-based taxi services unless they register with local administrations. Some states have banned Uber services, according to reports.

The company said Thursday that it will suspend its services in Delhi during the review of its operations, but made no mention of the ban. The statement followed reports that it was continuing to offer services earlier this week despite the ban.

Police in Delhi are investigating whether Uber was negligent in its background checks of the driver, said Madhur Verma, Delhi deputy police commissioner, earlier this week. The driver has been found to be an alleged repeat offender.

The car in which the woman passenger was traveling did not have a GPS system and the driver turned off his smartphone, which had GPS, to avoid detection after the rape, according to the police.

Uber did not refer in its update to the police investigation or the ban on its services in Delhi, but said it was “sorry and deeply saddened by what happened over the weekend in New Delhi.”

The police investigations got complicated for Uber when a passenger claimed that she had warned Uber about the driver in November for staring and smiling at her. Uber had promised to look into her claims.

Presumably in reference to these charges, Uber said it was conducting a full audit of its “verification, rider feedback and support processes.” The company said it was “implementing measures to ensure that critical rider feedback is escalated immediately and immediate action is taken in every instance.” It said it would again review rider feedback on its drivers across India to make sure nothing had been missed.

Uber has promised to partner with women’s safety groups and said it was in discussions with the government, transportation organizations and safety experts in India “to implement robust solutions to ensure a safe ride.”

On Monday, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick ruffled feathers by appearing to blame the government for an improper background check of the driver involved in the alleged rape. He said the company will work with the government “to establish clear background checks currently absent in their commercial transportation licensing programs.”

India’s background checks are notoriously lax and driver misbehavior is not unknown in other taxi services. But Uber has drawn flak because of the high expectations it had raised among Indians, particularly the tech-savvy among them. The alleged rape shows that it takes more than an interesting smartphone app to run a taxi service, critics say. Uber’s bid to expand fast in India led it to cut corners on procedures such as driver background checks, they say.

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