Uber another answer to Karachi’s public KARACHI: Stranded on a deserted island or maybe a desert, he finds a magic ring that brings him some respite when he puts it on. A genie appears at his service. He tells the genie that he needs to be somewhere and before he knows it there is a flying carpet spread out before him to step onto … and off they go … up, up and away.
Fairy tales are so much fun … at least until you are jolted to reality. In this case there is that paan-chewing rickshaw driver who refuses to take you to Saddar unless you agree to cough up Rs300 or more even though the meter, even if it is working, indicates far less. Meanwhile, cab drivers have their own ideas. If they are not going your way, you are not going anywhere!
The ones looking for a ride are no less. There is that mother with three or four children in tow who all appear to have the same age, bawling with their noses running as they try to fit into a small rickshaw. Not to mention the endless arguments and negotiations over fares.
But these days there are so many smartphone apps one can download for free to catch a ride and get moving. Uber is the latest of these to arrive in Karachi, after a successful touchdown in Lahore some six months ago.
Download the app and you will never be stranded again. Your phone is the piece you carry on you which on your command connects you to the genie (the app), which will then get you your flying carpet. This ‘flying carpet’ comes in several makes and models — Suzuki Swift, Toyota Vitz, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and the like. And anyone could be driving it, provided they have passed the company’s stringent processes.
Uber doesn’t call its vehicle drivers ‘drivers’; they are referred to as ‘partners’. Zohair Yousafi, head of expansion for Uber Pakistan, says that anyone can partner with Uber. “We have students, teachers or anyone who might be unemployed or who would like to supplement his or her income as our partners. They are entrepreneurs, really. In Lahore, we have this gentleman working with an IT firm designing software who is also partnering with us. The money he is earning through Uber is helping put his son through college,” he says.
And the money isn’t so bad either as the partnership isn’t 50/50. A partner usually gets to keep 75 per cent and Uber takes the remaining 25pc. Still, the money one makes offering rides varies from person to person as not everyone works full time. The partners manage their own schedules. Some are on the road for eight hours, while others for just a couple of hours. But first things first, the partners must undergo training and several checks to join the Uber platform.
The screening process requires scrutiny of their CNIC, driving licence, car registration with a police verification certificate, including a social referral character certificate. Then follows training on how to operate the app and mandatory attendance of an anti-sexual harassment workshop designed by Rabbt, a non-governmental organisation.
The partners’ app is different than the customers’ app. After downloading your app and registering, you can turn on your GPS to see how many Uber vehicles are available ahead of making a trip request. The car and driver info with his or her picture and reviews from other customers will all be at your fingertips. The charges are also quite reasonable. For instance, travelling from Saddar to Burnes Road would cost you Rs150, and from Hydery Market to Bahadurabad would be Rs200.
The service currently being used by Uber for Karachi is called uberGO which is being offered in Clifton, Saddar, Jamshed Town, Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Liaquatabad, North Nazimabad, Gulberg Town, Shah Faisal Colony, Malir and Korangi. But it will keep expanding until it takes over the entire city. It is also a service that doesn’t rely on credit cards and one can pay cash too.
Then after your ride, you as well as the driver rate each other and provide feedback so that Uber can review the information and look into the problems if any. There is also always a customer support staff at hand in case of any unforeseen incident.
Asked if the cars need air-conditioning or seatbelts and if they are very old, Mr Yousafi says that if their partners hope for good reviews, they would take care to keep their vehicles in good condition.
There are currently several other carpooling and taxi apps also available in the country. Savaree, developed by young Pakistani entrepreneur Madeeha Hassan, and of course, Careem, are the other well-known ones. Uber says they are still the oldest internationally as the company was founded in 2009 in the United States. Today the service can be accessed in 70 countries and over 500 cities.
“We have been constantly upgrading according to the needs of our customers and partners everywhere,” says Mr Yousafi. “It is an interesting time to be in Pakistan. There is room here for all products. Competition is good and is always welcome as it keeps us on our toes and helps us improve. In the end it would be win-win for everyone.”
So this is it. If you have a smartphone, you will never find yourself stranded in Karachi and Lahore, at least until the service spreads to other cities. You may start believing in fairy tales again.