Underfire Uber Egypt asks House for access to drivers' criminal records amid safety concerns

Zeinab El-Gundy , Monday 20 May 2024

Ahmed Aly, head of public policy and government relations for Uber in North Africa and Middle East, requested that the company be granted access to the government's database to verify whether drivers working with the company have criminal records.

An Egyptian
File Photo: An Egyptian driver working for Uber Transportation Company in Cairo, Egypt checks a map on his phone. AFP

 

The request came during a hearing on Monday at the Communications and Information Technology Committee in the House of Representatives following recent high-profile incidents that have put the safety of the global ride-hailing app in Egypt into question.

The hearing, chaired by MP Ahmed Badawy, was attended by officials from the National Telecom Regulatory Authority, Uber, and the Ministry of Transport

Aly stated that the committee had recommended in March that the company check the criminal records of their drivers. However, Uber has been unable to implement the recommendation due to the lack of access to an official database to verify the drivers' information, he said.

"Regarding the death of the young woman, Habiba El-Shamma, the company was on the ground from the moment the incident occurred, providing support to her family and covering treatment costs through the global insurance company we have a contract with.”

He added that Uber cooperated with the investigative authorities until the driver was apprehended.

Last month, a Cairo criminal court sentenced the Uber driver accused of attempting to kidnap Habiba El-Shamma – who died after sustaining serious injuries in the incident – to 15 years in prison and fined him EGP 50,000.

Habiba, 24, sustained a brain haemorrhage after she jumped out of the car to escape the driver in the case that rattled the public in late February.

She went into a coma for 21 days before passing away. According to the investigations, the driver was under the influence of drugs, had a criminal record, and had already been suspended from working in Uber due to sexual harassment complaints.

Nevertheless, he returned to work at Uber again using a fake ID.

MPs hit Uber hard
 

He continued: "Safety is our collective responsibility," which was met with objection by MP Mohamed Ebada, Deputy Chairman of the Committee, who asked whether the company had been adhering to safety standards.

"The ridesharing sector plays an important role in achieving safe mobility, and we have taken measures," Aly responded.

MP Ahmed Badawy inquired about the committee's recommendation to activate a tracking feature inside the vehicle. Aly said: "We verify in more than one way, one of which was specifically developed for Egypt, where the driver takes a selfie before starting the trip."

Committee Secretary MP Martha Mahrous commented: "If a selfie is the method of verification, then there is a problem. I could send you a selfie of myself in parliament while I'm at home," to which Aly replied, "Our standards are those of the law, which has not yet been enacted."

MP Mai Mazen, who submitted the briefing request, objected to the Uber representative's statements, saying: "You mentioned the committee's recommendations from last March, none of which have been implemented. There is no activation of the distress button as previously recommended. The company only requires the driver to send his picture and the car model on the app."

Mazen added, "The company representative says he's sorry for what happened to Habiba El-Shamma. Sorry for what? A life was lost. Since the committee met with you last March until now, there has been no action. We have had five incidents involving the company's cars, two resulting in deaths and the others involving harassment."

She demanded the closure of the Uber app in Egypt, stating, "The app should be shut down if you cannot prove your efficiency and regain our trust."

Committee recommendations
 

At the end of the hearing, the committee made several important recommendations to ensure the safety of ride-hailing apps.

Those recommendations include defining such companies as service providers, not digital technology companies. This move would make these companies responsible for ensuring passenger safety.

The second recommendation is enforcement of all provisions of the existing law and decrees regulating ride-hailing apps.

The third recommendation is enhancing passenger safety through the use of cameras and audio recordings inside vehicles.

The fourth and final recommendation by the committee is that all companies wishing to operate in this field must provide a customer service centre to receive and systematically record complaints.

The complaints database should be electronically linked to the Ministry of Transport upon request, and the ministry will monitor its implementation.

Uber, including its subsidiary Careem, is currently under fire in Egypt following a second major incident last week involving a driver arrested following allegations of physically assaulting and attempting to rape a female passenger.

The incident is currently under investigation by the Public Prosecution.

The #stopusinguber hashtag went viral on the social media network X where users demanded a boycott of the popular app.

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