This post would’ve been titled “Uber-ing around in the City of Joy” had it not been for an incident that changed my life. Recall those accidents in movies where people get run over or smashed up by speeding cars? Well, I just got a front seat experience complete with the glass fragments. Here’s how things transpired.

I had gone for a trip to Kolkata with my family last month and we touched down in Mumbai on time thanks to Indigo last Sunday. Being the last Sunday of May, the airport was busting at the seams with all the families returning from vacations and there was the usual shortage of trolleys. The luggage also took its own time to come around as expected. This also meant that the taxi booking counters were stacked with long lines and vehicles were in short supply. Since we’d been using Uber quite extensively in Kolkata, I decided to book one for the airport pickup as there was no surge pricing on.

I had the regular location and pickup time exchange with the driver and we finally managed to step out towards the pickup point. I informed the driver that we had reached the point and he came over to pick us up. The place was packed with cars and we tried to get to the car and load our luggage as quickly as possible since there’s a 5 minute cap on the time allowed. As luck would have it, the security at the exit point stopped us and demanded Rs 110 as we had apparently exceeded the allotted time by a minute. There was a heated exchange with the driver, and I finally gave up and paid the amount so that we could head home in peace. Little did we know that these few seconds would have such a large impact.

The driver was in a bad mood, and we entered the Western Expressway from the airport. The road was quite clear and he hit the gas and we were speeding along towards home. And then it happened. An old man with a packet in hand was running across the road just before one of the numerous flyovers, and our driver going at 70-80 kmph tried his best to avoid the man, but all too late. He hit the old man head on and he was flung onto the windshield, his head shattering the glass in front of me and finally ending up in a small pool of blood behind us.

The driver managed to stop and a large crowd gathered around us. The driver and I got down while my wife, 2 year old daughter and her nanny stayed inside. Our first task was to try and get the people to attend to the old man, lying unconscious on the road. Some of the people in the crowd got the man to the roadside and managed to get him to a hospital in some vehicle as the car was not in a fit state to be driven, and this was the most critical thing to do. Next was to attend to my family as we were all covered with glass fragments. My wife was in a state of shock, while my daughter was too young to really understand all that was happening. I also discovered minor scratches on my arms from the glass fragments with blood trickling out. We got the driver to pull the car over to the roadside while the people directed the traffic.

I managed to convey to the crowd that I was not driving and it was not my vehicle but just a taxi that we had taken for an airport pickup. I didn’t mention Uber to the people as this might have had a bad effect given the current state of affairs. The crowd was quite cooperative and even managed to get us a regular kaali peeli taxi and I promptly asked my family to switch vehicles as I transferred the luggage. Once I was sure that the old man had been attended to and there was not much for me to do, I boarded the kaali peeli and headed home with my family. I left the driver to attend to the aftermath and the people in the crowd to take care of things. Had this happened in Kolkata, it is very likely that the outcome would have been very different.

Aftermath

We managed to reach home safely though our kaali peeli driver also seemed to be pretty keen on causing another accident the way he was driving. I also checked out the Uber app, cancelled the trip and got hit with a Rs 100 cancellation fee. I went ahead and reported the accident on the trip feedback section. We also discovered quite a lot of glass fragments on our person and clothes and had to do quite a bit of cleanup to ensure the safety of our daughter. Later in the afternoon I got a call from the apparent owner of the car who seemed to be trying to understand what had happened. He tried to tell me that the old man was allegedly drunk. We were not in a state to really dig around the matter which was probably what he wanted to check.

I got a reply from Uber in the evening for my feedback, but no refund. So, decided to reply with a bit more of detail, making it a point to ask them to check up on the victim. That prompted another reply from their Hyderabad support centre the next morning followed by a phone call to ensure that things were ok. They finally refunded the trip charges, but I haven’t heard anything about the victim so far.

It’s time Uber added a speeding control in their fleet a la Meru and their audible warnings. They can surely do this through the GPS tracking built into their app. And of course, self driving cars can’t come soon enough.

A week on, I’m still haunted by images of the shattered windshield, the semi-conscious old man lying in a pool of blood and his packet of spices strewn on the road.

Update (8 Jun 15): Received a mail from Uber Mumbai that should hopefully put some of the lingering images to rest:

Our investigation has revealed that after the victim receive some first aid help, he was able to walk and make his own way, possibly to his home. Unfortunately though, he was allegedly inebriated and did not leave any contact details and did not go to the hospital. The first aid seemed to have sufficed.

We have not been able to find any further details. That said, if we do, I will ensure that you’re kept informed.

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