Demands for safer rides in Egypt

Sarah Elhosary , Friday 24 May 2024

Ride-hailing apps in Egypt are facing lawsuits and calls for boycotts in the wake of concerns over safety standards.

Demands for safer rides

 

Less than a month ago, an Uber driver in Egypt was sentenced to 15 years in prison following the tragic death of a girl who jumped from his vehicle while he was driving, claiming attempted abduction.

Another incident occurred some days ago, when an Uber driver accused of assaulting a passenger sparked anger among the public.

The latter incident, announced by the passenger’s sister on her social-media page, resonated with other users who shared their stories and initiated hashtags to boycott Uber and other ride-hailing apps.

There have been many complaints of challenges in reaching app officials for assistance, misconduct by some drivers, and instances of driving under the influence.

One user shared a negative experience involving her daughter being forcibly detained by an Uber driver until she cancelled the trip and highlighting unsuccessful attempts to communicate with the company for redress.

Rana Moetaz, another user of ride-hailing apps, said that for her communicating with the company via messages and emails had only resulted in automated responses, making it challenging to seek help.

She added that the frequent absence of safety and comfort standards on journeys does not align with high trip prices.

Samir Farid, a social-media user, said that several pages and groups on platforms like Facebook were offering fake drug tests and criminal record documents. These pages claim to open accounts with ride-hailing apps and to employ drivers whose accounts were previously blocked or suspended, circumventing laws that bar drivers with a history of drug use or criminal records.

Lawyer Amr Abdel-Salam, speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, pointed to flaws in Uber’s legal standards, saying that it operated through offices and agents who accept legal documents via WhatsApp, facilitating forgery.

Abdel-Salam said he had filed a lawsuit to suspend Uber’s licence and that of another affiliated app, alleging non-compliance with licensing conditions and issuing vehicle permits without subjecting drivers to drug and alcohol tests.

Due to the company’s failure to monitor safety standards or provide a means of communication with passengers, there is no hotline for complaints or registered headquarters, he said. Additionally, the company’s lax monitoring of drivers has led some to submit genuine documents and transfer these to banned drivers or those with criminal records, he said.

Abdel-Salam anticipates that the lawsuit will be heard in early June. It demands that other ride-hailing apps implement an electronic monitoring system, install cameras inside vehicles, and link them to the company’s internal systems and the Ministry of Interior to ensure a secure trip for passengers.

Ride-hailing apps are not just facing lawsuits in Egypt. According to the US Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, Uber is facing around 79 cases of sexual assault in various regions of the US, with these being consolidated in the Federal Court in the Northern District of California.

A main accusation in these cases revolves around Uber’s alleged failure to implement appropriate safety measures to protect passengers from sexual assault. The cases also include demands for enhanced background checks on Uber drivers and the implementation of more safety measures to protect passengers from assaults.

The incidents are not limited to passengers alone, however. According to a report issued by the US Government Accountability Office in 2023, three ride-hailing app companies reported approximately 4,600 serious sexual assault incidents against both drivers and passengers on trips in the US arranged through their digital apps in 2019.

In a safety report, Uber announced 2,826 cases of the most serious types of sexual assault in the US in 2019, while the number of reported cases in 2020 was around 998 for the same types of assaults. Although there has been a decrease in the number of reported cases through the Uber app over the past two years, this is insufficient.

Highlighting the challenges faced by ride-hailing app drivers, driver Osama Said said he has been driving for various apps for about eight years and that he has encountered many negative situations and even assaults from passengers.

“Some passengers, including women, claim to have lost their phones in order to extort money from the driver by threatening to report the theft to the app,” he said.

Others insist on smoking prohibited substances in the car, Said added. “There are even cases of murder and car theft targeting drivers, which do not receive much media attention or allow us as drivers to demand our rights and ensure safety standards.”

Said said that the application process may involve sending documents to the app via WhatsApp. He said that the forgery of required tests and documents could be a problem but acknowledged occasional monitoring by the app management.

Sometimes, the app requests a photograph of the driver and the car to verify the driver’s identity before granting permission to use the app.

 “This happens randomly and unexpectedly, but I believe passengers should verify for themselves before riding in any car by ensuring that the driver’s photograph matches the one in the app, as well as the car’s number, colour, and type,” he said.

Public concern over incidents related to ride-hailing apps has prompted parliamentary action. Amal Salama, a member of the Human Rights Committee in the House of Representatives, the lower house of Egypt’s parliament, has called for the suspension of the licences given to Uber and its counterparts due to crimes threatening community safety until proper measures to ensure safety are implemented.

Salama said that Uber’s statement expressing regret for the initial incident caused by one of its drivers in February had not prevented another one from occurring.

She said that signs should be used to label cars operating on the apps and recommended installing surveillance cameras and tracking devices inside the cars and connecting them to the relevant ministries to monitor activity during trips.

In televised statements, Ahmed Badawi, chair of the Communications and Information Technology Committee in the House of Representatives, said that a meeting has been scheduled for 20 May to review technological advances that can ensure that all security measures are in place.

The meeting comes in response to legal breaches by some Uber drivers, he said.

Badawi said that public pressure and calls for boycotts had had an impact, as some drivers had found that the app had been suspended over the last few days until they went to the company’s offices and provided the necessary documents before resuming work.

He said that following previous interactions with Uber officials after the incident that resulted in a girl’s death in March, the app administrators had requested a three-month deadline to activate a distress button on the app.

A month and a half has passed since the deadline was set, he said, and the company has added audio recordings for trips on the app and is currently testing them.

The National Telecom Regulatory Authority has formed a committee to communicate with ride-hailing apps and discuss how to develop them to guarantee enhanced safety standards and actionable recommendations to prevent earlier incidents from reoccurring.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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