Your ride has arrived!

Have ride-hailing services helped Pakistani women travel safe? MAG finds out.

  • 27 Jan - 02 Feb, 2018
  • Rabia Mushtaq
  • Feature

Sakina, a 21-year-old primary teacher, waits at the bus stand filled with a few other women of her age as well as men at one of Karachi’s busy arteries. The first bus that arrives is not the one Sakina boards for her daily commute to school. Instead, until the second bus arrives, she has to wait for another 15 minutes, which according to her are “one of the most agonising 15 minutes of her life”, for the waiting game is only fun for those who stare at her incessantly. However she says “It’s the price I pay to commute economically in an expensive city like Karachi.” She gets on the bus and prepares for yet another challenge she might face in the quest to secure a decent seat in the vehicle. This is not just Sakina’s story; there are many young, working girls who commute around the city to reach their workplaces using public transport, like buses and rickshaws.

On the other hand, a 24-year-old banker, Tehreem uses her smartphone to book a car ride to get to her office. “It’s the most convenient facility I could ever ask for,” she says, as she packs her lunch and steps down only when the ride to her workplace arrives. “I feel much more secure in this app-based ride-hailing cab, compared to how I did when commuting in a rickshaw. In the wake of a snatching incident with my friend, I would often fear getting snatched on my way to work in a rickshaw,” Tehreem said recalling an incident her friend encountered during a rickshaw ride.

The two working women, both in their 20s are headed off to face the world in their own ways. One is trying to make her ends meet by commuting via a public bus – the use of which in recent times has declined due to its lessening numbers on the metropolitan’s roads, as well as the rise in app-based ride-hailing services – while the other prioritises her convenience and safety by relying on an app-based ride-hailing service in this bustling cosmopolitan. Despite their different circumstances, both deserve as much safety and security as the other. Nevertheless, the arrival of app-based ride-hailing services in the country has apparently helped women – working or not – to travel without the fear of being harassed or feeling unsafe in public spaces. Is that a claim we make? Not really.

Are app-based ride-hailing services for Pakistan women a blessing?

The past two years in Pakistan have seen the rise of app-based ride-hailing services in Pakistan. With Uber and Careem initially dominating, the market has witnessed an increasing number of such services mostly in the country’s urban centres – Paxi, Daewoo cab, mLift, Bykea, Rocket Rickshaw and Safr to name a few. The growing number of app-based rides offer convenience to its users, be it in a comfortable luxury car to an economical bike or rickshaw, what matters is the ease they provide to their consumers. Technology in this realm has played a crucial role and has helped them thrive, particularly for women in the country, who earlier used personal vehicles, conveyance provided by workplaces or public transport like buses, rickshaws and the good ol’ black and yellow coloured cabs to commute in their respective cities.

From the horse’s mouth

MAG conducted a survey where women aged between 15-30 years responded to the question whether ride-hailing services really helped Pakistani women in travelling safe. Here is what they had to say...

All of the female respondents claimed to have felt safe when commuting in an app-based ride. 55.6 per cent respondents said they commute alone while 44.4 per cent stated that they are accompanied with someone. In response to a question regarding the time of their commute alone, 55.6 per cent respondents said they travel during the day, 22.2 per cent commute during evening while 11.1 per cent chose night as their option.

When asked if they have ever had an unpleasant experience while commuting in an app-based ride, 77.8 per cent of the women said no, while 22.2 per cent agreed in response. One of the respondents, 28-year-old Paras, a marketing coordinator by profession, said, “The driver did not get the directions to my destination,” and advised, “Road Training for drivers is essential in order to avoid such circumstances.”

Mariam, 22, said, “We have to be cautious of the roads at all times. Many drivers keep staring at us through rear view mirrors,” she requested the services to ensure, “Gender sensitisation trainings.”

A student and entrepreneur Alyzeh, 22, has recommended such services to ensure “a panic button to alarm the ride-hailing service’s headquarters or police that something's up in order to avoid a security issue during the ride.” Another student, 20-year-old Shahana, requests the availability of female captains, while Asfiya, an 18-year-old university student, demands the provision of “offline services” for commuters who are not able to connect to the internet to use the app.

A few of the popular ride-hailing companies initially began their services by providing car rides to their customers. But to ensure wider reach around the country, they came up with rickshaws and motorbikes too. However, of all the women this publication spoke to, 88.9 per cent opted booking a car, while 11.1 per cent chose rickshaw, however, none chose bike as their preferred ride, which according to them was certainly not the safest mode of transport to commute for women.

A popular app-based bike ride Bykea, along with another market leader’s motorbike service are possibly the most convenient for men, as it is not just the fastest mode but also the most economical of all. Women, however, do not prefer it over the other available modes of transport.

Who offers what?

MAG got in touch with one of the most popular ride-hailing service to find out the registered number of female customers in their database and how many actually use the app on a daily basis. According to Careem, “More than 70 per cent of our customers are women. It’s difficult to provide stats on this but we are seeing 20 per cent growth every week in Pakistan.”

Talking about ensuring the safety and security of its commuters when faced with an unexpected encounter, the company stated that it follows a safety policy. “Careem has an emergency helpline where the customers can contact (24/7) if there is a problem during the ride. The support staff provides immediate assistance and in case of more serious issues, ground staff is sent to aid the passenger and the captain.”

According to a statement on Uber’s website, it “enforces strict safety guidelines to help keep (commuter’s) rides safe and comfortable. Unprofessional behaviour like inappropriate physical contact or verbal aggression are not tolerated. Also, drivers are expected to operate vehicles safely at all times. If our riders experience anything during their trip which makes them feel unsafe, we have a complaint mechanism to handle the situation.”

Paxi is another app-based, ride-hailing service introduced last year with women drivers as its unique selling point. The service facilitates their female commuters with the choice to opt for a ride driven either by a female or male driver. Another service Safr is “a new ridesharing service focused on the safety and empowerment of women. Built with the needs of women in mind, we aim to improve the lives of women everywhere through safe transportation, job creation and financial security.”

The ride-hailing service’s website states, “Our drivers are personally vetted and undergo comprehensive background checks so you can have a peace of mind knowing they meet the Safr standard. Our in-ride security features make sure you arrive at your destination safely.”

The verdict

In a rapidly altering and advancing technological world, app-based ride-hailing companies are indeed a blessing in disguise as they have not just provided women in our part of the world with the opportunity to commute alone but also in a safe and secure way. These women come from different backgrounds, professions and have aspirations to conquer the world; however, how they do it is what the world needs to understand, as being a much vulnerable gender, women get to face more challenges as compared to their male counterparts. It is time for these ride-hailing services to expand their territories and ensure the provision of their services to not just the go-getting urban women but also to the ones from rural backgrounds who are not familiar with the technological facilities around them.