Chennai: While there are no public places completely safe for women, it isn’t unreasonable to expect safety while using transportation services, even if they’re run by private cab aggregators.
Two-wheeler taxi services such as Rapido, Ola and Uber are popular in the city, but women who use these services are often plagued by intrusive questions, harassment, stalking, and other safety-related concerns by riders.
Says Anu, who uses the service to commute from her home to office (Arumbakkam to Nungambakkam) every day, “The bike taxi driver asked me to sit closer and would leave the handlebar occasionally while driving. He wouldn’t slow down at the speed breakers. He’d repeatedly turn around and ask me about the route or some other question. He also changed the route and when I questioned him about it, he said he was following Google maps.”
These are serious concerns faced by several women. Rachel from Besant Nagar was stalked by one of the bike taxi drivers. “While coming back from office, the bike taxi driver asked me for my phone number. He offered to drop me every day, as he’d ply the same route. I told him that it was not necessary, and that I’d need his services only for that day. He continued to ask me personal questions about my workplace and asked me to sit close to him!” recalls Rachel.
It got worse after they reached the destination. The driver kept asking Rachel about her house and followed her to the gate. “I was so scared that I had to call my roommate to come down to the gate. The driver continued to ask me for my phone number and repeated that he could drop me every day. It was nerve-wracking, and am not sure if I want to take two-wheeler taxi again,” she explains.
Another woman commuter explains when the bike taxi driver refused to drop her to the destination but stopped halfway through the route. “He said the estimated pay was too low. I offered to pay him extra since it was already about 10.30 pm. I was scared he’d misbehave further if he stopped. Also, he tried to touch me on the ride and, also while I paid him the cash,” she added.
Most women who’ve faced similar issues have raised complaints with the app. They’ve shared their experiences in detail to the customer-service agents. “They patiently listened to everything I said and comforted me as well. And even promised to take appropriate action, but I am not sure what action was taken after that,” avers Anu.
“What I need are not reassurances. Why should I have to pay more for an auto or cab? Shouldn’t these companies ensure that by sensitising their workers and conducting workshops on women’s safety?” asks Sharadha.
When both women mentioned these concerns to their respective neighbours and landlords, they were reprimanded for choosing the two-wheeler service and accused of being irresponsible with their safety. “How are we at fault? They tells us to take auto-rickshaws but these are expensive. Bike taxis are cheaper, and doesn’t affect our monthly budget,” she points out.