A 30-year-old software engineer was allegedly stripped and robbed at knife-point by his Rapido driver and two other men in Chennai on Friday evening.

Rapidos safety features in question after Chennai techie is mugged and assaultedImage for representation/facebook
news Crime Monday, September 02, 2019 - 17:01

Days after a 30-year-old Chennai-based software engineer was allegedly forced to strip and robbed at knife-point inside a car, the spotlight is once again on safety features in ride-hailing mobile apps.

The incident took place on Friday evening when Kumar* booked a bike-taxi in Chennai through the mobile app Rapido. Rapido is a bike-taxi hailing app, similar to Ola and Uber. The drivers in Rapido are called ‘captains’. Saravanan, a Rapido ‘captain’, chose to take the ride. He, however, called Kumar and told him that he will pick him up in a car since it was raining. An unsuspecting Kumar agreed and waited for his ‘captain’ to pick him up.

When Saravanan reached the spot to pick Kumar, there were two other men inside the car already. When Kumar asked who the men were, Saravanan allegedly told him that they were co-passengers. Kumar got into the car. But it didn’t take him much time to realise that he had been trapped inside a moving car.

During the two-hour long ordeal, the three men allegedly made Kumar strip and took nude pictures of him. They also allegedly robbed him off the Rs 11,000 he had with him. Finally, around 7 pm, they dropped him off near his house and threatened to leak his naked pictures online if he did not keep Rs 50,000 ready the next day. However, Kumar decided to approach the police and filed a complaint with them.

Since the crime happened on the basis of a booking made on Rapido app, the first task of the city police was to visit the app’s office and conduct an inquiry with the employees there.

Speaking to TNM about the case, a police officer from KK Nagar police station said that a team of policemen visited the Rapido office in Chennai around 9pm on Friday, hours after they received the complaint. “The office was locked. We thought it would be open and asked the security personnel there. But he told us to come back the next day,” the officer said. The officer also alleged that Rapido did not respond to any of their calls.

An FIR was also registered on Saturday under section 392 (Robbery) of the Indian Penal Code against Saravanan, based on Kumar’s complaint. “We wanted to talk to Rapido to trace the accused in the complaint. So, we got in touch with a manager. After some efforts we got the details and traced Saravanan and secured him first,” a senior police officer working on the case told TNM. Based on the information provided by Saravanan, the police arrested two more men and have remanded them to judicial custody.

Easy verification procedures

Speaking to TNM, an employee of Rapido explained the process of how a ‘captain’ is added to the service. “We verify documents like RC book of the vehicle, the applicant’s driving license and insurance papers before processing the application to become a Rapido captain,” he says, requesting anonymity.

But when asked about the training that Rapido provides its ‘captains’, the employee said that the captains are given training lasting for up to an hour about how to use the app and customer relationship.

While the Rapido employee refused to comment on the Chennai case, stating all information had been given to the police, he conceded that the bike-taxi hailing app does not have systems in place to conduct extensive background checks.  

“No extra background checks are conducted as of now. However, we are in process of setting up a system to include that also in our recruitment process,” the employee said. However, like other vehicle aggregators, Rapido also has an emergency button on the app for passengers to click on it when they feel unsafe during the ride.

“The app has a built-in mechanism to alert out emergency response centres in case the passenger is feeling unsafe at any point during the ride. We have a separate emergency team monitoring our rides and they will respond to the alert immediately,” the employee added.

The senior police officer urged the public to be extremely careful while using the services of such vehicle-hailing apps. “If there is any difference in the details given in the app and the vehicle that is coming to pick you up, please don’t use that ride,” he said. 

A ban and a stay

The Madras High Court had, in July, banned the app in Tamil Nadu and had directed Google and Apple to take it down from their app stores due to lack of government regulations as far as bike-taxis in the state are concerned.

The ban was, however, stayed in August after Rapido explained how the app worked and the safety measures in place for users. The High Court also directed the state government to mention when it would frame necessary regulations for bike-sharing operators in the state similar to those formulated by Telangana and Chandigarh.

(*Name changed to protect identity)

Read: Explainer: Why bike sharing app Rapido has been banned across Tamil Nadu

 

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