The belief that ridership services like Uber swathe a passenger in safety has been shaken by the rape of a 27-year-old woman in Delhi by her cab driver on Friday. As it turns out, the feeling of safety was illusory to begin with. In Delhi at least, Uber normally does not conduct the same stringent background checks on new drivers like it does in several Western countries, according to the police.

The 32-year-old cab driver – identified as Shiv Kumar Yadav, a resident of Mathura – who sexually assaulted the young woman had submitted forged documents while enrolling with Uber, according to police sources. The ridesharing service had, in fact, registered him as Gaurav, the name mentioned on his driver’s licence.

“Uber had not run a background check on him, it did not visit the address mentioned in the documents he provided to the company,” Madhur Verma, Deputy Commissioner of Police (North) told “It did not even run a police verification check. He could have been a serial killer and the company would have had no means to find out. Uber will be held liable for its gross negligence.” asked two cab drivers in Delhi, one working with Uber, whether most taxi-booking services run background checks before signing up drivers. Both replied that there was no such requirement.

The driver working for Uber alleged that the company had less than half a dozen employees in Delhi. “How will it run a background check on us when it doesn’t have the resources?” the Uber driver said. Despite attempts by, Uber Delhi representatives were unavailable to reply to queries on recruitment criteria for drivers and the background checks on them.

Differential treatment

In Europe and North America, where Uber is extremely popular, the company reportedly puts all new drivers through scrutiny. The driver’s driving licence is verified, as is his criminal record. Factors like speeding tickets are also taken into account before a driver is drafted in.

In September this year, a city councilman in Iowa’s capital Des Moines, Chris Coleman, tried getting a job driving with Uber to examine their hiring procedures. However, following some checks, his application was rejected. The councilman held this up as testimony to the company’s stringent verification processes.

Why then does the company not run similar background checks in India, where driving licences are easier to come by? According to the Uber driver, possession of a valid commercial driving licence is the only major eligibility criterion for driving for reliable cab services.

“Many cab drivers either possess a fake licence or a licence acquired through a bribe,” said an official at the Ministry of Transport. “Most of them do not appear for a driving test.”

On Sunday, Uber spokeswoman Evelyn Tay issued a statement on the crime in Delhi:
Our thoughts are with the victim of this terrible crime and we are working with the police as they investigate. We will assist them in any way we can. It is also our policy to immediately suspend a driver’s account following allegations of a serious incident, which we have done.

Safety is Uber’s highest priority and in India, we work with licensed driver-partners to provide a safe transportation option, with layers of safeguards such as driver and vehicle information, and ETA-sharing to ensure there is accountability and traceability of all trips that occur on the Uber platform.

In March 2013, a 20-year-old Uber passenger in Washington DC had alleged that she was raped by her limousine driver. Even before the driver was charged for the crime, Uber representatives issued a statement disassociating themselves from the driver and absolving themselves of all responsibility.