Ride-hailing app giant Uber launches in Pakistan, prioritizes rider safety

A busy and congested street in Lahore, Pakistan.
Robert Nickelsberg | Getty Images
A busy and congested street in Lahore, Pakistan.

Driving in Lahore is not for the faint-hearted, what with trucks, cars, motorcycles carrying entire families and sparkling three-wheeled taxis all vying for limited road space.

For those who don't fancy braving the notorious traffic, Uber has just launched in the historical Pakistani city, with specific measures in place to ensure passenger safety.

Uber rolled out its uberGo service in Lahore on Wednesday, which is the app's cheapest ride option offering chauffeur-driven hatchbacks.

Fare estimates start from a base rate of $0.95 (100 Pakistani rupees), and increases by $0.13 per kilometer or $0.04 per minute and payment can be made via cash or the in-app credit card service.

The uberGO service also allows riders to share their estimated time of arrival or a map with others to track their location.

"Uber's technology makes it possible to focus on safety for both passengers and drivers before, during and after every trip," said Shaden Abdellatif, Middle East and Africa spokesperson for Uber, in an email interview.

Abdellatif added the expansion into Lahore "is an opportunity for building on safety and reliability in the transport network."

Safe and reliable public transportation has long been an issue in Pakistan, particularly for women and places constraints on their mobility and ability to travel to and from their work places, according to a 2015 International Labor Organization report.

Uber appears to be taking this safety threat very seriously by ensuring every potential driver undergoes a screening process which include a police verification certificate. After passing the initial screen check, drivers will have to attend training on how to operate the app and a mandatory anti-sexual harassment seminar.

In Lahore, it is commonly expected for passengers to negotiate the fare of taxis or auto rickshaws, a popular mode of transport, before starting the journey.

Other existing ride-hailing apps in Lahore even offer rickshaws as a vehicle option. Local app Travly allows rickshaw booking requests through the Android app, its website or through a local hotline.

Abdellatif said that the ride-hailing behemoth will be exploring other cities in Pakistan this year.

Lahore marks Uber's launch into its 69th country and 386th city amid scrutiny over the costs associated with international expansion.

An official filing lodged with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce revealed that Uber had lost $237 million in 2014 and $31.9 million the year before, excluding its U.S. operations.

The losses can be attributed to cost items including $126 million cost of sales, $36 million in wages and $129 million in other operating expenses, reported Reuters.

Safety and security are beginning to feature prominently in the messages and strategies of ride-hailing apps.

Singapore-based Grab, which is one of Uber's biggest rival in Southeast Asia, announced Thursday that it would provide free group Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) coverage for GrabCar and GrabBike passengers and drivers across the region.

GrabCar and GrabBike passengers and drivers will be covered under the insurance policy against personal accident. Any accidents will be covered from the first dollar, with Grab's passengers and drivers not needing to pay any deductibles.

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