Government hauls up private cabs for not installing safety equipment

The transport department has said it will not allow fleet cab and mobile app-based operators to conduct business if they don’t install GPS devices and an SOS button for the safety of passengers

Fleet taxi and mobile-app based cab operators came under heavy censure from the state government on Thursday, after they missed the deadline to install equipment designed to enhance passenger safety in their vehicles.

The SOS button system will cost companies around Rs 10,000 per cab. Pic for representation
The SOS button system will cost companies around Rs 10,000 per cab. Pic for representation

The Transport department has given the operators six weeks to install Global Positioning System (GPS) trackers and an SOS button inside all their vehicles.

In a meeting held on January 29, the transport department pulled no punches while speaking to different fleet taxi operators and aggregation services. Sources said the bone of contention was creating a robust safety system for passengers.

Two issues have come to the fore: the GPS location tracking device and connecting it to the SOS or ‘Panic’ button that would send a distress signal to the police, the cab operator, RTO and emergency contact of the passenger pressing the button (‘Coming soon: SOS button and location tracking in fleet taxis’, January 7).

The operators had to submit a safety plan to the government by January 15 and start implementation thereafter. However, very little progress has been made on
this front.

‘Pressing’ issues
The private cab operators claim the task of integrating the ‘Panic’ button with the police and RTO control room, GPS tracker in the vehicle and other software is tricky.

“We have to ensure that the button is thoroughly integrated with the GPS tracker in the vehicle and the control rooms. Moreover, the physical button should work irrespective of the situation,” said a fleet cab operator. Economics also comes into play, with the SOS button system costing around Rs 10,000 per cab.

There are around 7,000 fleet taxis registered in Mumbai apart from the 5,500 vehicles that mobile app-based aggregators have with them. This was part of the data provided by these companies to the Transport department on December 31, 2014.

Hurdles abound
Government officials have now given the operators six weeks to get their fully integrated systems running. “There are a few cabs of different radio cab operators who have installed this button, but the system is not robust. We have given them six weeks to ensure the physical ‘Panic’ button is correctly fitted inside vehicles.

The data on the drivers of these radio and aggregation services has been recently collated; this, too, needs to be fed into the system,” said a transport department official. Sources said even this data is not completely up to the mark.

Police verification of many drivers is incorrect and not updated, which is a major cause for concern as companies don’t have information on their own staffers. This also means that drivers are plying on the road without the mandatory badges and permits.

Operator speak
The decision has been met with different reactions from aggregators and fleet services. “Our business model is different than normal fleet operators. The state government should remove hurdles by amending the regulation and make us aggregators as separate private cab operators,” said a mobile app-based aggregator.

On the other hand, radio cab operators feel cheated as aggregators are running the same operation without any infrastructure investment. “We have to spend on vehicles, install GPS, create a control room, call centres and other infrastructure, while the mobile app aggregators don’t have these troubles,” said a fleet cab operator, on condition of anonymity.

Minister speak
Diwakar Raote, state Transport Minister, said, “We will not allow the aggregators or fleet cabs to operate if the conditions put forth by the Transport department are not met. I will personally look into developments once I return on February 1.”

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