While online taxi services have become a highly popular mode of transport in many countries of the world, the services were launched in Pakistan very recently. The Dubai based ‘Careem’ was launched in October last year. Since then, two new players have emerged in the Pakistani market: a Turkish company Albayrak (A-Taxi) and the US-based Uber.
All three of the services can be ordered through a mobile app though A-Taxi’s app is yet to go live. Unlike Uber, Careem and A-Taxi give an additional option of ordering the car through their 24/7 call center which also provides customer support. Uber taxis also provide in-app help service with email communication. A-Taxi has an added feature of stopping the car on the road.
Once a ride is secured, Uber and Careem provide details of the driver (name and picture) and the car (model, number and color) enabling the customer to track the entire trip on global positioning system (GPS) through their mobile app. A-Taxis also have GPS systems installed in their cars.
The services have fixed charges on a per kilometer basis along with a basic fare.
A-Taxi has the basic fare of Rs 120 and Rs 35/km but passengers can travel up to 3km within the default charges.
With Rs 25/km, Careem has a basic rate of Rs 150 but, if it is scheduled for a later time then the basic rate increases to Rs 250.
Lastly, Uber is the cheapest with a basic rate of Rs 100 and Rs 13.7/km. However, the minimum fare is Rs 150 for a trip.
While Careem and Uber customers can view their charges on their smart phones, A-Taxi have taxi meters installed in the cars.
Careem and Uber’s marketing strategy to attract new customers is offering free rides and promocodes.
Pakistan Today conducted a survey to find out about the user experience of these competing services.
Careem users were generally satisfied with the service.
“They know the routes very well plus their charges are very affordable,” says Ayza Amin, an NCA student.
Ayza used the service with their promocodes. “Without the promocodes it is expensive for one person. But if I go out with my friends, we can easily divide the bill. Then it’s almost equal to how much a rickshaw would cost but it’s a lot more comfortable.”
She said that she feels safe while travelling alone in their cars, “Because they send us the details of the car before it even arrives. So you can send it to your family if you are alone. I have used it at night as well and I texted the car number to my brother just to be safe.”
Sadia Mumtaz, another Careem customer, has a catering business and she has used the service a few times and finds it a good backup.
“I wouldn’t prefer it but it’s a good backup. It is convenient and a safe option. So far, the cars are clean and well-maintained and the drivers are good-mannered. They have Corollas, but I don’t know how I’ll feel if it was a smaller car.” In her last trip, the driver arrived late but she said that on the whole she was happy with the service.
Omaid Malik, also had a good experience with Careem but found it expensive. “It was expensive but it was on time and good. Very expensive though.”
Hajra Kamran, a frequent user of Careem said it is reliable and amazing! “Don’t forget to use the promocodes though,” she says.
Hajra has also used A-Taxi services twice, “I think it’s pretty economical,” she added.
She highlighted the positive aspects of both services. “Careem usually comes up with different promocodes which are economical, so I guess Careem’s better in that sense. But you need to book a car via the Careem service, whereas you can find the yellow cabs anywhere in the city.”
Nimra Gazhanfar who works as a PR coordinator travelled via A-Taxi twice. Her experience was an interesting one.
“The first time it was great. The driver knew all the routes properly and was on time. The second time the driver couldn’t find the place he was supposed to pick me from and I had to wait for an hour for him to come. He took the longer route back, as he didn’t know where to go. At the end I was also asked for a tip.”
“But, the operator I talked to while waiting was extremely nice and really helpful,” Nimra said.
Although the ride was comfortable for Nimra, she feels that it was expensive. “I spent Rs 1,000 traveling to and from Askari 10 to MM Alam. A rickshaw ride would have cost me half that and I wouldn’t have had to face any delays either.”
Uber, on the other hand seems to attract customers with its reasonable fares.
“I would like to try Uber, it seems reasonable. If that doesn’t work then I’ll definitely prefer the rickshaw for daily commute and prefer the cab for important things,” says Nimra.
Iqra Afaq who used Uber three times finds it good, “The cars are of the latest model and comfortable,” she said.
Some rides went without a hitch. However, she did have a few mishaps. “They need to have better navigation. When I called my first ride, the driver went to a wrong address and I had to guide him on the phone. Secondly, on two occasions I wasn’t able to secure a ride at all because the app wasn’t responding or no car was available. So, having a scheduled pick up would be convenient and an alternative way to order, by phone, for example, might be a good idea.”
Iqra is a little hesitant to travel in the cab at night. “It is safe during the day. But since the cars are unmarked (they still have to put up stickers) I am a little hesitant at night.”
Haider Halim talked about his experience saying, “The fare seems to be pretty much the same as when I travel on a rickshaw. But Uber is more comfortable and safer than rickshaws. Plus, the fare is calculated using time and distance traveled.” Haider plans to use Uber again.
Another customer, Abdul Haq who works at a software house has a different story to tell. During the free ride weekend he decided to give Uber a try. He said that during his journey he took the chance to interview the driver.
“When I asked about having to submit any documents or police clearance certificate the driver said no. However, when I told him Uber made it compulsory for Uber drivers to submit police clearance certificates along with other documents he said that he was only the driver and that his car’s owner had submitted the police clearance certificate to Uber on behalf of all the drivers.”
Abdul said that the app was easy to use but the drivers aren’t trained properly, “My destination was clearly marked in the Uber map but the driver was still asking me for directions. When I said that my destination is marked in Uber and that he could use the GPS or Maps, he started complaining about the poor internet connection and the cell phone which was provided to him by his owner.”
“Overall it was a very good experience. You can see the fare amount that will be charged for your travel on the Uber app. You can link your credit card in payment options but the drivers are less educated and they don’t know how automatic transactions works. Their first priority is cash.”
An academic head, Maha Hamza had a wonderful experience with Uber, “Uber app is easily accessible. The drivers are decent and the cars are clean.”
According to the feedback, the competition seems to be between Uber and Careem. While Uber still has to work on its reputation, Careem might be missing out on customers due to its high rates.
“I didn’t try Careem again because it was expensive. Why should I when I could get the same thing at a much lower price,” says Maha Hamza.
While some problems still remain, it appears that most of the users are embracing the new services.
“It is a wonderful thing. It makes us independent and saves so much hassle. Before, I used to have to wait for hours for someone to pick me or I had to cancel my plans. But these new cab services have made life easier for me. I just hope they maintain their standards and are not misused,” Maha Hamza said.
“Cab services are usually registered and they’re not time consuming. You have the benefit of set rates, so you don’t need to get into an argument and also, personal cars are not available all the time,” Hajra Kamran commented.
Sabih Masood said while giving his feedback: “I have used almost all of these services. The cost is more or less the same as rickshaws. But even if it’s on the higher side, the ride is a lot better; the level of comfort is something else. Winters are almost over and in summers, you know that most people are going to opt for these services instead of spending time in a rickshaw.”
However, for those who have to travel on a daily basis, the cost of these taxis can be forbidding.
“These services offer better quality of travel but at what cost? My sister needs to be dropped to and from her college and the rickshaw would cost Rs 200 for both sides – I can’t afford to pay the cab rates every day,” says Masood Iqbal.