Just when it looked as if things were improving in terms of personal transport suddenly there is an abrupt handbrake turn, and the ride-hailing services Careem and Uber have been ordered to come to a screeching halt. At least on the face of it the ban which applies in Lahore and possibly other parts of Punjab as well as Sindh, hinges around a failure by both companies to comply with a range of statutory regulations. These include failing to register private cars for usage other than private transport, a failure of the companies to obtain fitness certificates and route registration — the latter being something as a puzzle as nowhere in the world are vehicles used as taxis required to register the routes they ply.
The emergence of the ride-hailing services wherever they are operating has been welcomed by the travelling public that were hitherto tied to poor public transport systems offering indifferent services and low standards of safety and reliability. They offer door-to-door carriage at affordable rates and after some teething problems were quickly settling to be as revolutionary in Pakistan as they have elsewhere across the globe. Perhaps unsurprisingly Uber and Careem were not welcomed by existing taxi operators which tended to be small one-driver operations using a family owned vehicle — but distinctively coloured and registered under most of the regulations that Sindh and Punjab are now using to hamstring the newcomers.
In the latest development it appears there may be some confusion about the order, at least in Punjab where Uber has had positive interactions with organs of governance and the banking sector and long-term plans were being made with Bank of Punjab to bring 50,000 green and yellow cabs on to the Uber platform. In a country that has a ramshackle public transport sector especially in the cities, ride-hailing is a logical development going hand in hand with the growing ubiquity of smart technologies and their affordability. Let us hope that common sense will quickly prevail.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 1st, 2017.
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