Today’s technology can empower urban safety and mobility, regulations must adapt to the digital age
There have been robust discussions these past few days on whether shared transportation solutions that can solve congestion and pollution in our cities should be banned or recognised. Rules made in 1988 were not prepared for a world where technology intersects with transportation and applications mediate traffic logs.
Force fitting innovations of today and the future into regulatory frameworks that are ill-equipped to fully comprehend and govern these technologies presents a less than ideal scenario. Additionally, the debate has pivoted to the question of passenger safety especially for women riders and the relative perception of safety in shared spaces across bus, autos, metro, etc. Can technology make a difference and credibly solve for these challenges?
Technology often outpaces regulation. From grappling with the need to regulate new players, entirely new business models and at the same time encourage innovation, regulators have a tightrope to walk. By calling for demonstrable use-cases where technology is visibly impacting mobility and safety, regulators can provide a big fillip to data driven policy making.
In the quest for furthering women safety in shared public spaces therefore, there are simple questions to be asked. Can the details of the vehicle be made available? Can the vehicle be tracked? How good is the history of the driver?
Equally pertinent is the need for redressal mechanisms during and after a ride. Can technology enable real-time access to a route being taken? Can law enforcement be empowered to react faster and more effectively? Can co-passengers have a data trail that allows them to be identified?
While it is impossible to predict human behaviour, technology helps create stronger deterrents. Much like reducing congestion and pollution through shared mobility, safety is a shared responsibility involving both technological aids and human intervention. Police apps and helplines for women’s safety need to be complemented with better policing. Public shaming of offenders in an airline or a cab on social media needs to be followed up with FIRs and on-ground actions.
There are no advance indications of whether a person standing behind you in a bus or in a crowded metro will grope you or whether the driver in a shared or solo ride will misbehave. Having access in advance to tools that can track, identify and bring a culprit to book, can empower one’s response to these incidents in real time.
In the endeavour to make cities safer and give citizens, women in particular, the freedom of mobility, collaborative efforts that bring together stakeholders have yielded desirable outcomes. This is in large part due to effective sharing of actionable data by service providers, law enforcement authorities, communities, researchers and NGOs. Social enterprises like Safetipin have been using data and technology to support cities in their efforts to become safer, smarter and more gender inclusive. By equipping regulators with data around non-functioning streetlights and unsafe areas, technology and crowdsourced data has helped in improving the safety of cities.
Ridesharing applications have integrated their app with Delhi Police’s Himmat app and Kolkata Police’s Bondhu app to complement existing safety features and allow users to connect directly with the police control room. By using Google Maps for traffic management, the Delhi Traffic Police is applying tech to tackle congestion. Similarly, improvements in facial recognition technologies to screen drivers, increased use of telematics to analyse trip data, linking of police databases across geographies for a stronger Natgrid like structure are all developments that bode well for the future of urban mobility.
Regulations should adapt to the digital age and facilitate the development of innovative services to equitably improve mobility, safety, consumer welfare and sustainability. Over the years, there have been many initiatives aimed at making women feel safer and making cities and public spaces more inclusive. The gender digital divide is at its narrowest among the youth. Therefore, technology and mobile applications can be instrumental in reaching out to women as well as young men in the effort of building gender inclusive cities.
Smart use of technology coupled with equitable and effective use of data should be at the heart of regulations of the future, so that they not only ensure women’s safety in cities but also promote shared mobility, dis-incentivise private car ownership, increase use of public transport, and open up space in the city for other public purposes and infrastructural development.