The launch of ride hailing services, Uber and Careem, in Pakistan has got everyone super excited and sometimes emotional about the services and the concept. One cannot be too surprised, given the state of public transport in the country. However, I strongly believe that these services should not be given a blank cheque and absolved from all regulatory measures or quality expectations.
While I am totally not in favour of the recent move by the government to “ban” the services, I feel there is still a lot to be desired in terms of quality of transport from both these providers. I have extensively used both the services across Pakistan, and Uber in several countries abroad. It is disappointing to see the lack of quality by both in Pakistan. One would expect better from both companies, given their “international” background. I don’t intend to make this another review comparing the two services, but would like to raise some key areas that both need to work on.
Condition of vehicles is the biggest challenge that I have experienced with the services – Uber more than Careem. The condition of a car you get can vary greatly, even in the Business or Uber X category. Getting a very good car is pure luck. In the early days of Careem there seemed to be more focus on age and condition of cars but as both the companies have expanded, vehicle quality has taken the back seat. Dirty interiors and battered exteriors are quite common, and sometimes obvious mechanical issues can be experienced.
I have heard several people now comment that quality of Careem cars is better than Uber. I tried both services and found this to be quite valid. Uber seems to have no minimum age or condition requirements for vehicles, even in the Uber X category. I once attended a Careem partner session, right after their launch, to witness their requirements regarding quality standard for vehicles and drivers. What they aimed for in terms of vehicle quality when they started, seemed quite impressive. However, it is disappointing to see that like every other service that deteriorates with time, both these companies are failing to maintain the standards they promised to deliver. It goes without saying that clean presentable cars with exteriors/interiors in good condition and a cap on the maximum age of a car, should be a bare minimum to enroll a vehicle in these services. Periodic checks should be carried out to re-validate the contracts and these measures must be strictly implemented.
Driver Grooming & Safety
The other area of concern is driver grooming and safety focus. From overall grooming and appearance, to driving quality; standards vary greatly and again leave a lot to be desired. While this may not be in the direct control of the companies, given they are a ride share solution and not a transport company, they still need to maintain some basic standards that reflect their own core values. Drivers should go through periodic training sessions with focus on personal grooming, dress code, customer interaction and safe driving. I have had several drivers using mobile phones while driving – the worse being the phone in the lap and glancing down to constantly check directions to the destination. How difficult is it to have a policy of phones being in a dashboard holder? Use of seat belts and functioning seat belts is also an area that leaves much to be desired. Better groomed drivers with a professional outlook and approach would make these a preferred transport method for women and families. I have heard from several women, including those in my family who still don’t feel comfortable in these cars.
One could argue that these services are a step up from the dilapidated public transport and taxi services in our cities. While I agree that it is, that does not mean customers get short changed for something that is better but still not good enough. Instead of investing in superficial initiatives like making cricketing legend, Waseem Akram, a “CEO” for one day, if more efforts are made on product quality and driver training, it would serve the companies better in the long term. Both these companies should aim to contribute to the improvement of the transport system in the country, rather than becoming part of the system. I am more disappointed by Uber, as they are more global than Careem. In all other developed countries that I have used Uber, I have not seen the issues stated above, however in Pakistan they seem to take it easy given the lack of regulatory environment.
While I can understand that both the companies consider themselves as the IT company facilitating the ride share and not a transport company; they have a corporate responsibility to ensure that the services they provide meet some quality expectations. I would hope that both Uber and Careem will start paying heed to these areas and work to bring more quality in their services, rather than become just another street cab linked to a mobile App.
The views expressed in this Blog are purely based on the author’s own experience with the service and do not represent those of any organization, including the one being reviewed.
The author can be reached through the contact me page.