CNG-driven auto-rickshaw drivers have announced that they will go for a strike from November 27. Commuters won’t be getting any auto-rickshaws during such a strike.
They may have their own reasons for imposing such a strike, but I took particular interest in one of their demands: They want the authorities to ban Uber and Pathao services. They claimed that commuters are preferring these services more than their CNG-driven auto-rickshaws, and so they have been losing their customers to them.
Some of the press reports have pointed out that the drivers now really feel helpless because the commuters have started choosing Uber and Pathao services. They are seen roaming around idly in the streets; many have started short-distance services for making ends meet.
I can see a short-term future when the number of app-based vehicles increase across our country, and thus these CNG-driven auto-rickshaws go completely out of business. No commuter would even opt for auto-rickshaws. These drivers, in fact, failed to see this future.
There was a time – around 2003 when “CNGs” were introduced in the city -- when they seemed like better services, with the meters and everything, much better than the taxi services available in the country then.
Then this auto-rickshaw industry became Frankensteins of their own services; they grew greedy and various kinds of irregularities and forms of dishonesty crept into their services, holding the commuters as hostage. The passengers felt helpless in the face of their lack of integrity in the service.
It was during such a time when Uber and Pathao have broken this seemingly unhealthy cycle. App-based services started gaining popularity among the hapless commuters, as people found their services more reliable, feasible, and more trustworthy. These are the companies that run a transport service without owning any motorbike or taxi.
At the moment, many Bangladeshi entrepreneurs are in the process of launching such digitally-driven commuting services across the country.
This is where the owners of those auto-rickshaws and their drivers failed to visualise the paradigm shift of the change that was about to disrupt their monopolistic business. Now, they are planning an app through which common people will be able to avail their services that would ensure accountability and transparency.
Consumer behaviour is changing with changes in the technological arena. All businesses and everyday to-dos will soon become driven by technology
There will be no room for cheating when the app comes into play.
The reason why I mention the changes that have just started to revolutionise our commuting service business is to point out how technology is likely to bring forth a massive change in our lives and the way we have been operating or using service-oriented businesses.
Human consumer behaviour is changing with the changes in the technological arena. All businesses and everyday to-dos will soon become driven by technology. The advent of doing everything digitally will be the next normal. Let me cite a few examples of digital disruption.
You must have witnessed how companies such as Netflix and Iflix have started to change the audio-visual entertainment world. The television audiences have begun to switch off their TV sets and have started watching audio-visual content on their mobile phones through the services provided by these companies. These companies have shown us how to choose our own content and watch it at our own convenient time.
Bangladeshi television channels should have been able to foresee this future of entertainment. There will be another disruption when traditional newspapers start providing video content online much more than they already do.
Our TV channels should have realised the tsunami of changes that was set in motion when YouTube came into Bangladeshis’ lives.
If you look more closely at the global marketplace, you’ll see how eBay, iTunes, App Store, and Airbnb have disrupted with the provision of a digital marketplace that brings buyers and sellers together.
Airbnb, a company without even a hotel room under its name, is turning out to be the biggest hotel chain across the world, and you can avail their services by simply connecting with them on your phone.
Keeping the digital future in mind, the biggest companies have begun to diversify their businesses. Think about how Amazon has done it. They were simply an online bookseller when they came in the market, and now they have become one of the largest cloud service providers in the world. Look at how Google is entering into the banking business.
There are a plenty of examples in Bangladesh that have disrupted the dining-out industry. The app-based services such as Foodpanda have shown how the a-la-carte era is coming to a slow end. With more services such as this, the restaurant business is likely to witness a sea-change. The customer in Dinajpur will be able to order for food that has been prepared in a Bandarban kitchen.
I believe the on-demand model of doing business in the digital atmosphere is likely to gain popularity in Bangladesh. Education and health care may be one of the prime focuses for local digital entrepreneurs. I wish I could delineate some of the aspects of how digital innovations could temporarily disrupt the manpower or human resources sector within this limited space. However, I’ll keep that subject to talk about in a future piece.
This piece has been very humbly a small initiative to highlight the emergence of a disruptive era that would fall upon us to ride the digital cart. The cart is right here, right now. We, as a nation, need to learn how to avail a ride on that cart.
Ekram Kabir is a fiction writer and a columnist.