Public Transportation Safety – Should Taxis Have Panic Buttons?
The backseat of a taxi has long been a haven for the weary or hurried, offering a moment of peace before climbing back into the chaos of busy urban life. However, the backseat of a taxi can also be a dangerous place for its users, that’s why there is a need for new, high-tech safeguards for the safety of its passengers as well as the driver.
Situation in Pakistan
Most developed and developing countries have an SOS safety feature for the security of passengers and drivers, but in Pakistan no such measures have been taken by any public transportation service. In fact, ride-sharing companies like Uber and Careem and their call-centres do not have any control over the drivers or vehicles in case of an emergency, except for giving details of the location and the driver. Many people are not aware that most ride-sharing companies merely operate as call-centres that connect potential passengers and registered drivers and, therefore, do not have much control over the drivers. In other countries, call-centres have complete control over vehicles, while the police can also be called immediately and dispatched to the site of an incident for assistance.
Uber and Careem, especially in a country like Pakistan where security is a big issue, are supposed to be a safe haven for those looking for a reliable and secure method of transportation. Uber and Careem, both have claimed at numerous occasions that their prospective drivers go through strict scrutiny. Despite these claims, since the start of 2018 many Uber drivers were found to be involved in various instances of robbery and sexual harassment of female passengers. Their own drivers have been put in danger too. In Karachi, a 50 year old driver was shot dead. Furthermore, a Careem captain recorded himself abusing and threatening a customer with violence, a 22 year old Careem captain, Sajawal Ameer, was shot dead in Islamabad and a 28 year old captain, Junaid Mustafa, was shot dead in a car snatching attempt. There is a long list of incidents related to independent taxi drivers as well but mostly go unreported.
It seems like the ride-sharing service providers have not learnt a lesson yet and the major two have failed to provide a safe commuting option to passengers in Pakistan. Recently, Uber provided an SOS safety service after an uproar over the safety of a female passenger in India. The same feature should be introduced in Pakistan as well, especially for women.
The Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA), in collaboration with the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women, has designed a Women Safety Application. Once downloaded, the application prompts the user to enter their phone number, enable GPS and enter their residential address and CNIC number (optional). Upon pressing the in-App SOS button, the App will issue a warning signal that will allow victims, under a possible threat, to inform the Police Integrated Command, Control and Communication (PPIC3) officials about their location which will result in dispatching a team comprising of the Dolphin Force, Police Response Unit and Police Stations Beat Officers to the location of the incident.
This is a very good initiative for passenger protection. The idea behind the application is not only to provide immediate help to victims, especially women, but to also generate public awareness regarding harassment and its broader definition.
What is the SOS button?
The SOS button is designed for use in case of a medical or security emergency. Once you tap the button, you’ll be instantly connected to local police. The SOS button is only for use in situations where a passenger or driver is in danger and requires immediate safety response, e.g. he or she may be facing aggressive or threatening behaviour, unwanted physical touch, attempted vehicle snatching, robbery or any form of violence or attack.
What happens when you click on the SOS button?
Upon clicking, the button triggers an automatic message and sends ride details to the ride’s service provider and the nearest police control. In a matter of seconds, the service provider and police try to get in touch with the passenger and the driver. This advanced technological SOS feature enables the police to act within moments of being alerted in the rare event of an emergency. These few seconds can make all the difference.
SOS in India
In India, Uber has introduced two new features aimed at enhancing the safety of passengers. This happened as a result of the car service coming under increased scrutiny after a driver allegedly raped a female passenger. The new features, available as part of an in-App update, allow users to share details of their rides with up to five contacts and call the police using a new SOS button in case of an emergency. When a passenger taps Uber’s new in-App SOS button, he or she is immediately connected via phone with local law enforcement. Additionally, the location data as well as passenger and driver information for the ride in question are transmitted to the police.
The use of the in-App SOS feature requires the use of a smartphone and the App. In situations where a person is under attack in a ride and wants to call for help, it is not always possible to keep hold of the phone and access the in-App SOS feature. In fact, the availability of the in-App SOS button may not be very helpful as it is not easy and practical to access when under threat. Realistically speaking, the possibility of effectively accessing the in-App SOS feature when under threat is nil.
Bangkok has the best solution to this problem. The service in Bangkok provides a physical SOS button that doesn’t require the use of a mobile phone or any App.
SOS in Bangkok
Bangkok is rife with tales of taxi drivers driving passengers crazy rather than driving them safely to their destinations. Everyone has a story about a ‘cabbie from hell’ who has been molesting, raping or threatening riders, masturbating in front of them, overcharging or refusing passengers or enforcing weird rules in their cabs, or been salty or racist towards them. Experiences like these are hardly uncommon in Bangkok and provide evidence as to why the panic buttons are needed.
To tackle these problems, Bangkok has introduced new legislation that requires all taxis to have an SOS button. This red-coloured SOS button is usually located in the middle of a taxi for easy access. The new panic button connects riders directly to the Department of Land Transport (DLT) which decides if the case needs to be patched through to the police or if they can handle it themselves. The panic button also provides the GPS location, the driver’s licence information and 360 degree camera views.
Bangkok riders and drivers are pleased to have this life-changing SOS button because it keeps them safe and is an important feature for passenger’s safety and behavioral control of taxi drivers.
What needs to be done?
Pakistan needs to adopt the Bangkok model as well. There is also an urgent need for legislation in this area. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Transport can make it compulsory for ride-sharing services as well as private taxi services to have an SOS button installed. Licences to operate vehicles should not be issued to taxis or car services that lack the SOS feature. The police department can ensure that taxis are equipped with the SOS button, otherwise the driver can face heavy fines. Why don’t all the car services team up to create a standard panic button that can be used by all taxi or ride-sharing operators? Hopefully, the proposed taxi association can take a step in this direction to ensure the safety of its passengers as well as drivers.
All radio and online taxi operators should be asked to install safety measures in their vehicles, including trackers which allow the vehicles to be tracked and stopped if needed. The cab operators, the Transport Department as well as other stakeholders should agree within a certain time period to create a common mechanism to incorporate safety features.
The availability of SOS safety features in cab services, mobile Apps, taxis and especially in police records, would be a relief for passengers travelling alone, especially women. The SOS button, like in Bangkok taxis, gives further confidence because it is useful, practical, quick and easy to approach in panic situations. When cab drivers know that such features are present, they also tend to behave themselves and this allows a risk-free journey for the passenger.
It is important that transport industry and law enforcement take a strong collaborative approach towards ensuring passenger safety. Partnerships like these where all stakeholders work together as a team with the best interests of the community at heart, will go a long way in making Pakistan safer.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.