ISLAMABAD: Once hailed as the panacea for the unruly and dilapidated public transport system of the city by providing a fast, reliable and inexpensive cab service at one’s doorstep, the much hailed and service-oriented ride-sharing services seem to be losing its sheen due to the avarice of drivers who have brought the service disrepute in recent times.
"They are just selling an illusion," is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot by the users of these services.
“It's not the one-click service it used to be, not even in the centre of the federal capital,“ said Ijaz Anwar who said that he used to be a satisfied customer.
“You book a ride and you end up waiting in frustration for the ride to show up or risk penalties by cancelling and looking for alternatives because one cannot endure a 20-minute wait for a 10 –minute ride," he said.
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Expressing his bitter disapproval Anwar, who commutes daily from Lalalzar in Rawalpindi to Islamabad, added, "after the initial few couple months, the swift services and affordability of these app-based cabs meant that I sold my car and invested the money in a business. But for the last month, I have been kicking myself after experiencing a paradigm shift in their services.”
Drivers — branded as “captains” by the companies — have become adept at transferring or cancelling rides, especially in peak hours, if it means going between the twin cities," said Sarmad Ali, another irate customer who is associated with a private audit firm.
“Ultimately, the users suffer because they are charged against their will simply because the captains asked them to cancel the ride,” he added.
"They ask us to call on help centre to register complaints, which is another nerve-testing exercise in futility," he complained.
"My captain never cancels my ride now as I have smartly played with them and in a deceptive move by listing my name as a girl in the logging account," says Zeeshan, who works at the district courts.
He explained the move as captains’ preference for women since they are easy to manipulate.
People claim that they saw a good response from the app-based services early on but after the traditional taxi drivers got associated with it, they have employed the same old dirty tricks.
“Completing the maximum number of rides is more important for captains as compared to leaving customers satisfied and with this approach, nothing can stop them falling from grace," customers said.
"After booking the ride, the captain starts the ride before even picking the client up," complained Khalid Awan, who travels daily from Media Town to Islamabad and vice versa.
A well-educated ‘captain’, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that their business was known as a so-called sharing economy. He added that most of the drivers owned the vehicles they drove but are offered a pittance by the companies.
"There is no fair pay structure, no life insurance, no helpline, and no formal employment status while the companies are raking in a lion's share of the earnings," he complained.
Responding to public concerns, Careem's Head of Communication Madiha Qureshi dispelled the notion that they are not approachable for complaints, noting that they can be accessed “through different channels and public complaints are addressed at the earliest by our care and contact teams."
Moreover, she said that the automated rating system used by the company was the best public accountability of their captains.
"We are improving with each passing day due to this effective accountability system and our aim has always been to make Careem the safest form of transportation in any country," Qureshi claimed.
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Uber Operations Specialist Ahsan Tahir said that they have no tolerance against poor drivers.
"No leniency is shown against a partner/driver and we call both the complainant and the defendant, and after properly hearing both, a decision is taken in the best interests of the public and the company,” he explained.
He, however, admitted that the drivers were reluctant to book rides from Rawalpindi to Islamabad due to the massive traffic congestion for which the company had added Rs70 to each ride and Rs200 for the airport. This, he said, had somewhat resolved the situation and that drivers were now happily picking up rides.
On vehicle-drivers' insurance, he said the drivers were offered up to Rs0.5 million in a case of death but drivers are asked to have their vehicles insured on their own.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2019.