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Business

Uber flouts Delhi ban after rape scandal

Uber is back in business in the Indian capital despite official threats its cars may be impounded. The cab-hailing service was banned last month following allegations that one of its drivers raped a customer.

The taxi-hailing service Uber was operating again in New Delhi on Friday after a brief hiatus due to allegations one of its drivers had raped a female customer.

But the Indian government said the US-based company was still blacklisted and threatened to impound any taxis caught shuttling commuters in the capital.

"We have already directed enforcement teams to act on this," one government official said.

Flouting the ban, Uber's app showed cabs available for service on Friday. To jumpstart business after the hiatus, Uber promised its drivers a bonus of 250 rupees (3.62 euros, $4.00) for every trip until January 31.

Rape allegations

New Delhi's transport department imposed a city-wide ban on unlicensed Internet-based taxi operators last month after a 26-year-old woman said an Uber driver had driven her to a secluded area of the city and raped her.

When it was revealed that the suspect was a serial offender on bail for sexual assault, Uber was forced to acknowledge that it did not carry out background checks on its drivers in India.

The scandal threatened to oust Uber from the capital of its biggest market outside the US in terms of number of cities covered. India's traditional radio taxi market is estimated to be worth up to $9 billion (8 billion euros).

The rape allegations, as well as Uber's admission it had not sufficiently vetted its drivers, triggered mass protests throughout New Delhi and reignited an already volatile debate about women's safety in the country. India has one of the highest rates of rape in the world.

'We're back to serve you, Delhi'

On Thursday, Uber announced a series of steps meant to allay security concerns ahead of its return to the lucrative market.

In a blog post titled, "We're back to serve you, Delhi," Uber wrote that it had applied for a radio taxi license "to reflect our commitment to providing riders with more options for safe and reliable transportation, including the ability to request a Radio Taxi on-demand."

Uber also wrote that it was implementing "independent background checks on all driver partners, plus vehicle documentation reviews."

"As we resume operations in Delhi, we are only allowing driver-partners who have undergone re-verification of their Police clearance in the last six weeks to get back on the platform," the official blog post read.

Then on Friday, the company announced further steps to meet New Delhi's Radio Taxi Scheme requirements, saying it would introduce an in-app emergency button.

Until now, Uber has insisted that its service only connects drivers with customers and refuted claims that it was a taxi company.

More roadblocks ahead?

Uber's practices have also been met with opposition in other countries, where several cities and governments have threatened to ban the service. Last year, the company was temporarily barred from Germany's capital Berlin, amid protests from licensed radio taxi drivers, who claimed that Uber was skirting security requirements.

Similar claims have also led the Danish government to consider a ban. Uber is currently fighting bans in France, Spain and South Korea.

Still, Uber remains popular. It currently operates in more than 270 cities worldwide. On Wednesday, it secured $1.6 billion in financing from wealthy clients of investment bank Goldman Sachs.

But Uber's headache is not over. In Boston and Chicago, two of its drivers also face rape charges. Earlier this month, one of its London drivers was suspended for reportedly throwing a kissing gay couple out of his car.

pad/cjc (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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