The rise of internet availability has made sure that ride-sharing apps become more successful by the day
There are several developmental theories that economists and experts use to measure improvements in a country and transport/ ease of communication is a key metric in almost all of them. Today, Pakistan has several public transport options like the MetroBus and Orange Line train. Over the years, we have seen governments pay a lot of attention to projects regarding transport and improving travel between and through cities. Apart from the ones mentioned, these projects also include the old, green Lahore Transport Company busses that you can still sometimes see dragging themselves around the city. Then come other initiatives by the government, like the motorway connecting (almost) all of Pakistan.
These initiatives did not cater to the middle class. That market is served by private ride hailing applications that allow comfortable and convenient rides for a price. Ever since the introduction of ride sharing apps, such as Uber and Careem, in Pakistan, the market for digital transportation has expanded. They offer rides on several price points; the user gets to choose where to get picked up from and where to be dropped off at. The riders can also lodge complaints against any unwelcome behavior and a rating system is in place for drivers and riders. They also let you pay through your credit card, allowing the ride to feel almost like you have a personal driver. The rise of internet availability has also made sure that these ride-sharing apps become more successful by the day. Every passing day, the convenience provided by these apps keeps increasing as more and more people get access to a consistent network connection and as hardware keeps getting cheaper.
This convenience is just one of many factors that make these ride-sharing apps so popular. The fact that you can move from your starting location to your destination at the touch of a button is too big a convenience to ignore. While there have been safety issues, the mechanisms provided by the organisers make sure that the drivers behavein an acceptable way. Also, the organisational structure in these corporations makes it easy to effect change quickly. All that needs to be done is to send a notification through the app installed on each phone and every employee/ rider learns about it. The fact that anyone can sign up as a driver is also a massive factor in making these applications popular. There are so many people willing to drive either part-time for some extra money or full-time. The per-ride-basis-fare incentivises drivers to work longer hours to earn more, making sure that there is a saturation of drivers for riders to get a quick match. We also have to acknowledge that applications like Uber and Careem have created employment opportunities for many people. All you need is a car, a bike, or a rickshaw and a driving licence.
While the ride sharing applications are incredibly convenient and productive in providing job opportunities, they also are a cause for concern for the government.
While the ride sharing applications are incredibly convenient and productive in terms of providing job opportunities, they also are a cause for concern for the government. Let’s start by understanding why public transportation is so important. It allows the people who cannot afford these third party apps a cheaper and government-mandated alternative that allows them to travel across the city and to other cities. Public transport also turns into a tourist attraction if it is done well. Case-in-point, many people look at Lahore’s Orange Line train as a tourism option. It is a new experience which people like having.
While Pakistan’s public transport is fulfilling these requirements fairly adequately - even if rickshaws remain a more viable option for the less privileged - the system really fails when it comes to the more important requirements. A public transport system should ideally make for less traffic on the road, less environmental burden and quicker access from one area to another for every demographic. Pakistan’s public transportation options are just not attractive to the middle class. The reasons for this may include a lack of convenience and the stigma some people attach to travelling on public transport. This is where private ride sharing applications step in, they are everything these public transport options are not. They are convenient, they are “viable for the financially well-off”, they come to you at the click of a button and they contribute greatly to a deteriorating environmental status quo.
Therefore, while we as consumers have to make an effort to reject convenience for the sake of our environment, the government needs to do a whole lot more to make public transport an option for everyone; not just for the ones who cannot afford anything else. Improving public transport has immense potential in our fight against climate change, the government just needs to recognise and acknowledge that potential.
The writer is a reporter at The LUMS Post