Uber rolls out safety features in its ride-hailing app across India

The move by Uber may not, however, win over authorities in Indian cities

Uber Technologies has started a pilot across Indian cities of new safety features for its ride-hailing app, but the new measures may cut no ice with regulators in Delhi where the service was banned.

The app will now let users send driver and vehicle details to their relatives and friends, and will also have an SOS button that will enable riders to contact the local authorities in an emergency.

Uber was banned from Delhi in December after the alleged rape of a woman passenger by one of its drivers.

It announced in January that to keep the service going, it had applied for a license under the city's revised Radio Taxi Scheme that places tighter controls on taxi operators.

To qualify under this scheme, Uber has to have a fleet of at least 200 radio taxis directly owned or through an agreement with individual taxi permit holders, offer a call center, and provide "panic buttons" in the vehicles for emergencies.

Uber has objected to a physical panic button, claiming that it does not own the cars, which could be used by the driver to offer rides on other taxi services as well. If a rider were to enter a taxi that works for say four operators, the taxi would need to have four physical panic buttons, Uber said earlier this month in response to a report that the city of Mumbai was considering banning the service.

"In a situation of distress the rider would have to pick the correct operator's panic button to be able to get help on time," Uber said in a blog post. Physical buttons are not only prone to wear and tear, but also to mechanical malfunctions, it added.

As it negotiates the thicket of regulations in India, Uber is apparently trying to position itself as a technology intermediary, similar to e-commerce companies, rather than a taxi service. That would place the company outside most of the regulations currently governing taxi services in the country, according to legal experts.

Uber said in January that the Commissioner of Police in the eastern city of Bidhannagar had passed an order regulating on-demand transportation technology aggregators as technology companies, in accordance with the country's Information Technology Act 2000, and recommended that other cities adopt "similarly progressive regulations."

The new Send Status feature on the Uber app allows riders to share with family and friends details about their driver and vehicle, including live GPS tracking and the driver's photo, name and vehicle license number, Uber said Wednesday. "Send Status makes it even easier for friends and family to pinpoint your exact location and track trip progress in real time -- from start to finish," it added. The SOS button on the app dials the police help number.

The app updates are currently available on Android with an iOS version to follow. Delhi transport authorities could not immediately be reached for comment on the new app features.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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