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Ride with me

  • Published at 06:05 pm June 29th, 2019
What’s the future for apps? Bigstock

How ride-sharing apps created a revolution

Andrew holds Australian nationality, but he speaks fluent Bangla and has been living in Bangladesh for over a dozen years. When you ask him: “Where are you from?” he would answer “Hatiya.” He has these strong ties with Hatiya Island and with its inhabitants that he calls the place his home.

Andrew first visited Bangladesh 20 years ago. “What is the most remarkable change he has seen in Bangladesh over two decades?” I asked him some weeks ago to which he made a tongue-in-cheek comment: “The arrival of Uber.” 

Then, he talked about the country’s economic growth and how the income of our people has increased over the years.

I can fairly understand why the arrival of Uber is measured as a big move to Andrew. Forget he grew up in a developed country. Imagine your life before the birth of ride-sharing services in Dhaka.

I don’t have to go into details to explain the hassle of finding a CNG auto-rickshaw on Dhaka’s streets. We all know it, experience it every day. Even hiring a rickshaw sometimes is not an easy business.

How many hours do we lose in a month on the streets looking for CNGs and regular rickshaws, and haggling over the fare given, if only, the drivers are interested in going to your destination? 

It’s an aggravating and painful affair. The process is much frustrating and often harrowing too if you are a woman and unfortunately, it’s after the dark.

Let me present you a few examples. One evening my wife was standing in front of Dhanmondi Star Kabab to look for a CNG. A biker pulled up before her and asked: “Hey, let me give you a lift (uthba naki?)”. The biker didn’t wait for a reply. 

Another evening, she was searching for a CNG ride from Banani bus stop to Mirpur. She found a couple of men approaching her with an offer in the space of 20 minutes. They were going to the same destination, would she be interested in sharing the ride with them.

Let’s not mention other predicaments women face while waiting for a ride home on the street. Men jostle past them. Eye-rape them. Spit right next to them.

But if it’s public transport, the predicaments are a lot worse. One of my friends, a poet who teaches at a private university once wrote about the traumatic experience she went through while taking a bus ride from Banani after work. 

It was early afternoon, and she was standing in a chock-full bus. She felt something poking her rump. She spotted a middle-aged man right behind her. 

She moved her position as much as she could in that vacuum-packed bus. But the poking on her rump felt harder. She swung and discovered the man’s fly was wide open. And it was his raised member that was against her backside.

A 2018 BRAC study reveals that 94% of women are victims of sexual harassment in public transport. According to the research, 76% of women go through multiple forms of verbal and physical harassment in their daily commute, and 26% while walking on the streets.

When daily commuting in Dhaka and other cities, even for men, is a struggle, it is conceivable how unfriendly and unfavourable it could be for women. 

Plus, when there is a high risk of being sexually harassed, using public transportations means nothing but a frightening experience.

Towards the end of 2016, the app-based ride-sharing service Uber launched its operations in Bangladesh. Within a short period, it brought a revolution in the ride-hailing taxi service. 

Technology made life so much easier. Who would have thought in the streets of our dysfunctional capital Dhaka, always jam-packed with vehicles, the taxi would come to our doorstep to pick us up when called.

Unquestionably, Uber, Pathao, and other ride-hailing services have changed the commuting milieu of the big cities in Bangladesh. A safe and sound journey is the intrinsic part of this service.

Last week, my wife had to visit her friend after work. She had dinner there without rushing, and I didn’t worry because she would take Uber to get home. But it started raining after 9:30pm. The fare increased by Tk200 within minutes. Finally, when she got in a Pathao ride, the clock was striking 10:30pm.

She came home after 11pm and told me an impressive story. The Pathao driver of her ride was a well-dressed gentleman. She came to know that this was his personal car, and he was the owner of an agency. Every day, he picks passengers during his commuting -- one in the morning and one in the evening.

Like my wife, scores of women in the capital are frequent users of e-hailing services for security and a hassle-free journey.

In the proposed budget for the 2020 fiscal year, the government is to impose 7.5% VAT which was 5% last year. Now from July 1, the ride-sharing services will get costlier. 

At a time when Dhaka is technically broken -- the ongoing metro and other mega projects have crippled the city -- and daily commuting is a nightmare, was this increased VAT on ride-sharing really practical?

Until the metro gets fully functional, would our finance minister consider rather lowering the VAT on ride-sharing services? So that the middle class gets benefitted. So that our women can commute with a feeling of security paying a reasonable fare. 

Rahad Abir is a writer.

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