DESPITE having driven rickshaws in Karachi for about 20 years now, operating the recently introduced Uber Auto app is something entirely new for Mohammad Safdar. I met him on Friday afternoon, after placing a request for an Uber Auto ride through a colleague’s mobile phone the app on my phone gave up on me at the last minute. The Uber Auto app was launched in Karachi with a lot of fanfare on Thursday, seeking to help solve the transport problem faced by millions of citizens. The launch came with a number of revelations regarding the app. For instance, the minimum fare is Rs50; one has to pay under Rs100 for places within a 15-kilometre radius.
Just like the Uber Taxi Service, as soon as my colleague and I placed a request for an Uber Auto, Safdar’s name, his mobile number and the registration number of his auto quickly flashed on the screen. I was expecting a covered rickshaw with an Uber sign on the removable doors, as seen on the social media. But it looked like any other auto from the outside. Inside, a small pink charger was visible near the steering column, with a wire leading to a Motorola smartphone. This was the only sign of the rickshaw looking like it was associated with Uber. He could be an imposter, I thought.
Mohammad Safdar, 38, receives a pick-up call through his Uber Auto app.
“Yes,” he said, “I’m an Uber driver and no, my rickshaw does not have the Uber sign as it is owned by me.” As I directed him towards Tariq Road, he narrated his story, beginning with how he got to know of the opportunity to become an Uber Auto driver. Originally from Muzaffargarh in the south of Punjab, Safdar came to Karachi in the early 1980s. “I bought my own rickshaw after selling our ancestral land in Muzaffargarh. I bought a CNG rickshaw in 2010 when the earlier ones eventually disappeared from the market,” he said.
Of the service, he added: “It is an entirely new thing for me. I got to know of Uber Auto looking for rickshaw drivers in Karachi through a pamphlet I received in Shadman Town through volunteers.” These pamphlets, he says, were introduced by a fleet transport service called Al Hamza Transport. Run by three brothers Hamza (CEO), Babar (marketing) and Akbar Safeer (operations) Uber, through the help of Al Hamza, started looking for drivers around two weeks ago.
Marketing manager Babar Safeer said that so far they had registered 300 rickshaws. “On the day of the app’s launch we had around 180 rickshaws. A day later we registered 110 more. It is a process and we don’t claim to resolve the issues that will surely come up, but we are quite hopeful after seeing the kind of response we receive from the public,” he added.
Uber’s head of expansion in Pakistan, Zohair Yousafi, only confirmed a few things on the phone as he refused to speak on his day off. He said the service was not hiring drivers, but looking for rickshaw drivers to partner with. The drivers are paid Rs1,500 a day for a 10-hour job. Safeer said that drivers who surpass the 80 rides a day challenge would get a bonus of Rs5,000 by the end of the week.
Safdar, on his part, said that he had submitted his national identity card so that his permit could be made. As the permits are under process, Al Hamza Transport currently partners only with drivers who have an original driver’s licence, he added. “It is necessary because most drivers come up with forged documents to avail of an opportunity,” he said.
Apart from security, Safdar told me that the transport service is putting a lot of stress on the use of smartphones and properly communicating with customers. As we reached Tariq Road, Safdar took out a pamphlet from under his smartphone. It was a step-by-step guide on using the Uber application. “Most of my friends don’t know how to use it. As a result, they lose customers,” he said. “The trick is to try it every day until we get it right. So far, this is the only problem we are facing.”
He is echoed by an Uber user from Gulistan-i-Jauhar, Mohammad Ashfaq Yasir, who runs a shop at the Chawla Centre on Tariq Road. “It is too early to be nitpicking,” he said. “But, so far, the problem I faced with two drivers yesterday was that they don’t know how to use the application. One of them didn’t know the address and I ended up being charged when I cancelled the trip, as I had spent 15 minutes helping him understand the way. By the end of the trip, I was charged Rs76. And I realised the large difference in fare as I hailed another rickshaw, this time not an Uber, which charged me Rs170 back to Shaheen Complex.
Although, it is too early to sound hopeful, I would suggest giving the application a bit of time to see how the service fares in the coming months.”
Courtesy : Dawn News