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2017 in review: A revolution in public transportation

  • Published at 09:39 pm December 29th, 2017
  • Last updated at 01:10 am December 31st, 2017
2017 in review: A revolution in public transportation
In 2016, ride-hailing tech companies stormed the Bangladeshi market with Uber, Pathao and Amar Ride launching services in Dhaka. Such initiatives have set a trend of using mobile apps to order a taxi or motorbike for either sole or shared travel. As of November 2017, an estimated 500,000 commuters have opted to avail ride-hailing on cars and bikes via apps - also known as e-hailing. This number was only 10,000 in January. Ever since its launch in November 2016, Uber, the San Francisco-based ride-sharing tech giant has taken advantage of a dysfunctional public transportation system and taxi service in Dhaka. In a matter of just a year, the company has not only gained immense popularity but has also paved the way for several local tech initiatives to arrive in the market. Amit Jain, president of Uber India and South Asia, said the company’s goal was to use technology to: “make our cities more accessible,” while: “reducing congestion and pollution.” He said: “In line with the government’s vision of Digital Bangladesh, we are thrilled to be in Dhaka to harness technology for the benefit of riders, drivers and the city.” Uber’s launch was not as smooth as one would assume, for in the past the company faced a great deal of opposition from the government. As it turns out, only three days after its launch in Dhaka, the service was declared “illegal” by Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA). At the time, Nurul Islam, director of BRTA, said to the Dhaka Tribune: “A company needs to take permission from BRTA before launching a taxi service and Uber failed to do so. This is why we published a notice in newspapers, declaring the service illegal.” However, they later agreed to let the Uber cars run but on the condition that these businesses follow guideline set by the authorities. While no such guidelines have been issued by the government so far, Obaidul Quader, Minister of Road Transport and Bridges, said the government was “very much positive on ride sharing services as it is in line with our view to build a digital Bangladesh. But such platforms need to operate under a guideline. The BRTA has submitted a draft on ride sharing and it is now being finalised.” Pathao’s business model revolves around offering motorcycles as a mode of transportation for its customers, making them direct competitors of taxi and CNG auto-rickshaw rental services. It goes without saying motorbikes unlike auto-rickshaws and taxis are not only fast but also easy to manoeuvre in traffic jams, making them ideal to navigate Dhaka’s traffic-choked roads. Interestingly enough, Pathao began as an E-delivery way back in 2015. Using its fleet of motorbikes, the company was successful but it was not till October 2016, when news of Uber launching in Dhaka in November 2016 reached their ears, did they decide to introduce motorcycle ride sharing services. In spite of their popularity, Pathao is not the pioneer in motorcycle-based ride-sharing in Bangladesh. That honour belongs to Share-A-Motorcycle or SAM, which was launched in May 7, 2016. But it seems Pathao’s superior business model has made them more successful and popular. It appears that Pathao’s success was noticed by Uber because in the final quarter of 2017, Uber launched UberMoto - following the model of motorbike taxi service Pathao provides. In essence, Uber has essentially set the tone for companies such as Chalo, Muv, Dhaka Moto, Bahon, Amar Bike, Amar Ride, Taxiwala, Dako, Ezzyr, Goti and Hellow Ride, all of whom have created a booming e-hailing market. Unfortunately, it seems not everyone was happy with the success of these companies. Their success were making the wallets of dated CNG-run auto-rickshaw owners and workers lighter, as people preferred the convenience derived from ordering services from the comfort of their homes. It was not long until auto-rickshaw workers’ unions called for a 48-hour-strike and called for a ban on app-based transport services, starting from December 27 in both Dhaka and Chittagong. However, the move drew widespread criticism and was withdrawn on December 24. There are unconfirmed reports of a faction of auto-rickshaw owners and drivers agreeing to join companies like Uber and Pathao as of next year. Commuters can take solace in knowing that as of 2018, new apps will be introduced that will allow commuters to avail auto-rickshaws from their mobile phones and computers. Goti and Hellow Ride are among two companies that are set to launch apps to order auto-rickshaws. “Auto-rickshaws have been continuously losing customers to ride hailing services. So we made an app to help the auto-rickshaws get more customers,” said Rinku Jamal, coordinator of Hellow Ride. Dhaka Tribune spoke with Professor Shamsul Huq, from Civil Engineering Department at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. The professor said: “E-hailing service has been very popular globally for over seven years. Typically one car is used by one family now that same car can be shared by others, meaning lesser cars on roads. This will definitely help improve traffic conditions.”