Can The Rise Of Taxi Aggregators Be Linked To A Decline In Drink Driving In India?
New Delhi: If we rewind back to the beginning of 2011, the likelihood is that very few Indians would know that they would soon be able to conveniently book cabs through apps on their smartphones. India’s own homegrown on-demand taxi aggregating service, Ola, had just launched and Uber was just preparing to roll out across the United States. However, in a few short years, the impact of taxi aggregating apps on urban mobility in India, while sometimes controversial, has undeniably been huge.
One of the biggest problems India faces today is its rising number of road accidents. In 2015, 1,48,707 people were killed and another 4,82,389 were injured in road accidents in the country, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. And while this data does not make a distinction between accidents linked to driving under the influence of alcohol, it is widely recognized as a serious contributer.
The unavailability of other means to return home after a night of drinking is often cited as one of the main reasons for drink driving by several studies. Does this mean that the ever increasing presence of cab-haling services has decreased instances of drink driving?
“Given the exponential growth in demand noticed during the New Year’s Eve, we are certain that people have started using alternative modes of transportation, like Uber, as against taking over the wheel when they are under the influence of alcohol,” a spokesperson for Uber tells NDTV.
Ola reiterates a similar line. “Ola has seen increased uptake for our services over weekends in popular pub-going areas in cities across the country,” says a spokesperson for the company, “Additionally, on last New Year’s Eve, Ola had deployed more than 500 shuttles to ferry over 10,000 people to their homes from popular hot-spots around Delhi NCR.”
However, while straightforward logic suggests that the availability of convenient transportation options through cab-hailing apps should translate into a reduction of instances of drunk driving, simply because options other than taking the wheel are at disposal, the problem is that there is no conclusive data or much research to support this.
The research that does exist (mostly in the context of the American market) is polarising, either crediting the presence of services like Uber with reduced instances of drink driving or claiming that there has been no change.
“Without any conclusive data, which we have not come across yet, it is difficult to assess whether taxi aggregators have had any kind of impact on drink driving,” says Saji Cherian, Director, Operations at SaveLIFE Foundation, an NGO which campaigns for road safety in India.
“Anecdotally, any available safe transportation alternatives—and this does not necessarily refer to aggregators—should bring down instances of drink driving. However, we do not have any data for now,” he adds.
Both Ola and Uber have been extensively campaigning against drink driving. For the 2016 New Year’s Eve, Ola had launched its #PeekeMatChala campaign in collaboration with comedy group AIB while Uber promised to be the #DesignatedDriver for the holidays, tying up with Bars Against Drunk Driving (BADD) to encourage patrons to hire the service after drinking. The companies have also set up breathalysers at key party spots in cities like Bengaluru.
Of course, their interests are commercial, but there are many who believe that these services have provided a much-needed alternative.
“Drinking and driving was pretty commonplace in Indore. Everything is quite close by, especially when you compare it with cities like Mumbai and Delhi, so the drives are quite short. Also, the public transportation is terrible so there wasn’t any option. But for the past year or so, the police have become really strict about driving drunk and Uber’s popularity has shot up. These days most of my family and friends just book a cab instead of driving themselves,” says Sehej Anand, a resident of Indore.
However, the problem of drink driving is not limited to the search for an alternative mode of transport and taxi aggregators have been in the news for their own drivers drinking on the job. The issue of drink driving extends to attitudes, lack of awareness, and, more importantly, poor law enforcement. The World Health Organisation gave India a 3/10 rating for the enforcement of drink driving laws in 2013 and that is something worth thinking about.