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Ride-sharing businesses hit hard by Covid-19 again

  • Published at 02:04 pm April 6th, 2021
Motorcycle Protest
Dhaka Tribune/Mehedi Hasan

Suspension of ride-sharing services leading to culture of risky offline trips, Pathao president says

The ride-sharing business has again been hit hard by Covid-19, causing suffering to those who are reliant on the industry for their living. 

It will take at least six months to recover the losses incurred during Covid-19 lockdowns, service operators have said. 

According to the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), altogether 23,493 vehicles are listed as ride-sharing providers. About 80% of the vehicles are motorcycles.

On September 4, 2020, ride sharing services resumed bike services in Dhaka after a 6-month suspension due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

On April 1 this year, the BRTA again suspended motorcycle ride-sharing services to ensure health safety guidelines and social distancing.  

About 371,093 motorcycles were registered in Dhaka from 2017, when the ride-sharing services Uber, Pathao and Shohoz were introduced, till February 2021. The highest number of 104,064 motorcycles were registered in 2018.

’We cannot afford to stop working’

Julhas Ahmed, 34, came to Dhaka from Faridpur in 2019 and has been working as an Uber and Pathao service provider for the past two years. Prior to that, he was unemployed and struggled to support his parents, who have heart conditions.

Before the pandemic, Julhas would work from 9am to 9pm every day, earning Tk30,000-40,000 each month.

“The income was good, and my parents knew that I was working for prestigious companies. I was able to support my parents well with what I earned and I was able to recover our mortgaged land with the money,” Julhas said.

“After the government lifted the suspension on ride-sharing services last year, we were getting back on our feet and earning again. However, this new lockdown is going to make it very difficult to survive in Dhaka. I am on the verge of breaking down,” he added.

On a visit to the Mohammadpur area of the capital, this correspondent found seven or eight bikers offering rides for negotiable fees as ride-sharing apps are currently suspended.

When asked why they were still offering rides when the government had ordered the suspension of ride-sharing services, one of the bikers said they could not support their families by staying at home. About five minutes later, all the motorcyclists had dispersed.

Salah Uddin, an employee of a private company, said he had availed an unofficial ride as he could not find any other way to commute.

“The motorcyclist did not charge me much, but police stopped us on the street and fined him,” he said.

According to the ride-hailing company Uber, 22% of Dhaka’s population have used the Uber app at least once. A total of 100,000 car drivers are partners, while 2,000 motorcyclists sign up weekly.

Uber officials said they could not yet measure how much damage had been done by the pandemic, and they could not say anything more until the government issued fresh instructions.

Ride-sharing sector in collapse

Maliha M Quadir, founder of Shohoz, told Dhaka Tribune that about 70% of the people who offered ride-sharing services in Dhaka had come to the capital from other districts. Ride-sharing was the only means of income for about 50% of their rider partners.

“Those who worked with us to offer ride-sharing services earned a minimum of Tk20,000 a month. Now the sector has totally collapsed. Some are delivering parcels on bicycles, but they are very few in number,” she added.

“We are planning to recover some of the losses this year by increasing food and grocery delivery services. Shohoz will introduce three different services within a few weeks,” Maliha further said.

Pathao President Fahim Ahmed said those who depended on ride sharing for their livelihood went through severe economic hardship in the lockdown last year.

“The suspension of the service also created a culture of offline trips, where hygiene precautions and safety protocols are not maintained,” he added.

“As we await further guidance regarding the scope of the lockdown, we urge the government to take into consideration the adverse impact on an economically vulnerable section of our society, such as our drivers, food and courier delivery agents, as well as the thousands of small businesses and their workers that rely on the Pathao platform,” he further said.

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