Uber Rivals Race Ahead With Better Tracking

by Sohini Bagchi    Dec 12, 2014


A rape accusation against an Uber driver in New Delhi last week has thrown taxi apps (and along with it passenger safety) under close scrutiny. What especially comes to spotlight is the tracking mechanism used by these firms to connect with their vehicles and customers. Experts believe companies in the transport industry should not see themselves as mere service providers, but as players in the information business, who should use technology effectively to connect with their drivers and customers.

While Uber has since been banned in the Indian capital, and facing similar bans and legal hassles in several countries including Spain, Thailand and the US, many others are reportedly gearing up to offer better and more reliable service to customers.

Having a strong GPS/tracking mechanism

According to several reports, most cabs in India now have a smartphone device, which helps the company in tracking cabs in real-time as well as processing booking requests from customers. Unfortunately, in Uber’s case, a driver can be tracked only when his smartphone (iPhone) is switched on. The Uber driver accused in the Delhi incident switched off his mobile phone in order to be untraceable, making it evident that Uber cabs (and several other firms too) do not have a GPS tracking system installed in the car except the driver’s smartphone.

Olacabs, which also has a similar tracking mechanism until now. However, in the light of the recent incident, an official informed Quartz that Olacabs is now working on creating an additional layer of GPS tracking in all cabs on the platform. Moreover, it allows its passengers to share their trip details to a trusted person assigned by him.

Meru Cabs, a radio cab company has revamped its strategy, with over half of its cars owned by the drivers, and not the company. Meru also has GPS in their cars to track the location and to ensure that drivers aren’t speeding. And like Olacabs, Meru too allows its clients to register for a trip tracker facility every 15 minutes in addition to an emergency alarm through its mobile app.

TaxiForSure also offers app-based devices to its drivers that help them track the location of all drivers real-time. The cab service also has “Track a Taxi” feature that allows passengers to share a link tracking movement of the cab, with anyone via phone texts.

Law: The missing link

While technology will continue to play a major role, the law governing the taxi industry needs to be overhauled, as the government conceded, since it was enacted long before the introduction of radio cabs and mobile telephones in India, tech analyst Manoj Mitta writes in a TOI blog.

According to him, “When radio taxi services entered the market about a decade ago, states laid down special terms and conditions for granting these permits under Section 74 which states that no vehicle can be run as a cab unless the regional transport authority has granted it “contract carriage permit” as defined in Section 2(7) of the Motor Vehicles Act 1988.

The Delhi government came up with its radio taxi scheme in 2006. Several of its terms and conditions were designed to ensure passenger safety,” he says adding that however, when app-based cab services came up over the last year or so, have been operating outside this licence regime because it had no scope for the new technology-driven service. Some of the requirements would not even apply to services like Uber, Ola Cabs and the rest, he says.  It is important that the vehicle must have GPS/GPRS based tracking devises and a mobile radio fitted in the front panel. This will ensure constant communication with the central control unit while the vehicles is on duty.

While the Uber case questions the safety of passengers and  have raised eyebrows globally, Park Byung Joon, head of the urban transport management program at Singapore’s SIM University, told Reuters that taxi booking firms globally need to improve processes to ensure the drivers they screen are the individuals driving their cars.

GrabTaxi and Easy Taxi, Uber’s biggest competitors in Southeast Asia are also geared up to assure utmost safety to its passengers with sensor, cloud and various other advanced tracking mechanisms.