How Uber and taxi aggregators are trying to avoid Covid-19 transmissions

With the upswing in COVID-19 cases first in Maharashtra and now in different parts of the country, how safe is it to travel in a cab? We find out.

By:Updated: Apr 06, 2021 6:26 PM

With the incoming COVID-19 vaccine, we have been bombarded with emails on how the auto industry is again pitching to ensure everyone is vaccinated. Companies have been giving their employees as well as associated relatives free vaccine doses. There are also companies that have listed their commercial vehicles for vaccine transportation duties. If that isn’ enough, top cab aggregates like Uber, Rapido have said that they will provide free transportation to and fro from vaccine centres. While transportation comes with a disclaimer, offering a discount still can be considered a good deed, isn’t it? However, with the upswing in COVID-19 cases first in Maharashtra and now in different parts of the country, how safe is it to travel in a cab? After all, the person going for vaccination may already be infected and post their trip, the driver or other passengers stand to get infected as well.

To find out the answers to this, we tried out a few cab services as well as spoke with the drivers. Of course, the cab aggregators as well as the drivers shall remain unnamed in this story. A driver of one reputed cab service did indeed sanitise the cabin as well as car touchpoints before we boarded it. On being asked if he does this regularly, the driver affirmed that he does. He ends up doing this 10-12 times a day. His car was fumigated using the aggregator’s sanitisation hub a month ago.

On the return journey, another driver whose services were pressed into use didn’t sanitise the car before we boarded. He claimed that the company had stopped supplying sanitisers sometime ago and hence they weren’t using. At the same time, he encouraged us to use sanitising solutions, we may be carrying, on the seats. He was also wearing a mask but it was resting on his chin instead of covering his mouth. On another occasion, we hailed an autorickshaw from an app. The driver has a proper mask strapped on and his autorickshaw too had a partition screen. Of course, he didn’t sanitise the passenger bin.

We sent out emails to a couple of ride-hailing cabs. Uber sent in this response through the spokesperson

Safety is a top priority at Uber. Since the early months of the pandemic, we launched a comprehensive set of tech-enabled in-app safety measures for ensuring that all drivers and riders adhered to the highest safety standards. These include a ‘no mask, no ride’ policy for both riders and drivers along with Go-Online checklists, industry-first pre-trip mask verification selfies for riders and drivers, driver education around Covid-19 related safety protocols, vehicle sanitisation procedures, and a two-way feedback process. We also pioneered safety screens in cars and Autos to prevent droplet transmission between driver and rider. We have already installed safety screens in over 140,000 Autos across more than 20 cities, and in over 43,000 cars across 7 cities. Globally, we allocated $50 million for PPE. In India, we’ve been distributing millions of safety supplies to our drivers for free, including 3 million three-ply face masks, 400,000 bottles of disinfectants and hand sanitisers PPE Distribution. To enhance safety for riders and drivers who are travelling to other cities, we have partnered with four major airports to set up Uber Sanitisation Hubs for disinfecting cars before every single trip, using state-of-the-art equipment and disinfectants.

Cab companies should insist that their drivers display their temperature reading to the customer. Similarly they should also take the temperature of the customers. They can definitely refuse a ride if either one of them exceeds the temperature specified or has illness symptoms. Cab aggregates should also provide sanitisers to be sprayed inside the vehicle. These should be replenished depending on usage. Given how rampant the virus spread has been and perhaps due to reasons that can be totally avoided, it is but natural that a little attention to detail will go a long way in breaking the chain. If cab aggregates strictly enforce the use of sanitisers after every ride, or perhaps monitor their driver, passenger vitals then maybe it will benefit everyone. Adding the cost of sanitisers to a customer’s ride bill can also be looked into.

Express Drives urges people to only step out if the task they have at hand cannot be avoided. Try and use personal transportation and roll the windows up. On a motorcycle, use a helmet as well as mask. If using a cab is unavoidable, try and carry a sanitiser spray. Disinfect the cab/rickshaw yourself. It is better to be safe than sorry!

PS: We also reached out to Rapido as well as Ola. At the time of the writing this story, we were yet to receive a response from them. 

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