Uber faces crisis again in India after driver accused of trying to kiss passenger

A Uber driver in Delhi was charged last year with raping a woman passenger

Uber's logo

Uber's logo

An Uber driver has been accused of forcibly trying to kiss a woman passenger in Gurgaon, near Delhi, a case that has echoes of the alleged rape of a woman passenger by another driver of the ride-hailing service in the same city last year.

The allegation of the sexual assault over the weekend is expected to increase scrutiny of Uber and other car-service companies by local authorities. The brother of the passenger posted a message on Uber's Facebook page saying that even after registering a complaint with the ride-hailing service, "there has been no action, no update from your end."

Gurgaon police said Monday that they had received a complaint by email and were investigating.

Uber was banned in Delhi in December after the alleged rape. The Delhi Transport Department ruled that ride-hailing services had to register under a revised Radio Taxi Scheme that placed tighter controls on taxi operators.

Uber said in January that it had applied under the new scheme for a license to operate in Delhi. Under the scheme, Uber would need to have a fleet of at least 200 radio taxis either directly owned or operated through an agreement with individual taxi permit holders, offer a call center, and provide physical "panic buttons" in the vehicles for emergencies. In February, the company rolled out a pilot of new security features in its app, including an SOS button that would enable riders to contact local authorities in an emergency. It later fine-tuned the features.

News of the second assault emerged over the weekend, when Uber also announced the appointment of a new country head for India. Amit Jain, formerly president of Rent.com in the U.S., has been appointed as Uber's president in India, indicating the importance the company attaches to the country, which it describes as its largest and fastest-growing market outside the U.S.

The company is trying to position itself as a technology intermediary, similar to e-commerce companies, rather than as a taxi service. That would place the company's operations under the country's Information Technology Act, and outside most of the regulations currently governing taxi services in the country, according to legal experts.

On Monday, Uber said that the accused driver met Delhi regulations, including having a valid "public service vehicle" badge and a commercial license issued by the Delhi authorities. It is not clear whether Uber itself has a permit to operate in Delhi.

The company said it was in touch with the rider and the Gurgaon police and will offer its full support and cooperation in their investigations. It also said that it immediately reached out to the rider via phone within a few minutes of receiving the complaint, and that several members of the Uber team spoke to the driver as well.

To protect the privacy of everyone involved, the company said it will continue to handle the matter directly with the concerned parties.

In the case from last year, the driver has been charged with rape by Delhi police. The woman passenger also filed a separate suit in a U.S federal court against Uber.

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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