Airlift Wants to Replace Public Transport in Pakistan. Is it Succeeding? [Review]

Author: Ahmad A. Ansari

IT-based services have gained a strong foothold in Pakistan in recent years. Mobile apps have transformed everything from finance to food delivery to transportation. Ride-sharing giants like Careem and Uber have heralded in a new era of travel.

In recent days, a new ride-sharing initiative called Airlift has gained significant attention. Airlift’s unique model utilizes Toyota Coasters and Toyota Hiace Grand Cabin vans with 12-22* seats on various high demand routes. Airlift currently operates in Lahore and Karachi only.

This unique system allows users to “pool” together on a single vehicle, to and from common pick-up and drop-off points such as famous landmarks, malls, offices, and bus stops.

It would be neglectful not to mention the potential Airlift has as a tool for easing traffic congestion by combining passengers along similar routes. Unlike other public transport options, Airlift promises you a seat (which can be booked in advance), air conditioning that works, and live tracking that allows you to stay abreast of your vehicle’s actual movements. Moreover, the use of a single-vehicle by a dozen users at a single time will have a positive impact on the environment of one of the most polluted cities in the world. All in all, it’s a win-win situation.

Here is My Experience Using Airlift

Upon downloading the app, I was given 5 free rides to try out the service, which I thought was a nice gesture. I reserved a seat on my chosen route that would pick me up about 0.5 kilometers away from work, and drop me off around 2 kilometers from my home. The booking process was seamless and I received a confirmation number instantly.

However, users should be aware that bookings can be made up to 15 minutes before the route time; but in most cases the entire vehicle is booked out an hour or so before.

About 15 minutes before the designated arrival time of the “Airlift”, I received an SMS reminder, which is a fantastic idea to save time and keep users apprised of their vehicle’s movements. The SMS was generated when the Airlift had started its journey to my pick up point, ensuring minimum time loss.

As I stood at the corner of a footpath, eagerly awaiting a red-colored Airlift coaster, a white hiace van with a barely noticeable “a” (for Airlift) sticker slapped on the front pulled up on the opposite side of the road. Since the vehicle’s number plate was obstructed by guard bars, I checked the app (which I found to be pretty accurate in tracking), and headed over to board the van, which was about half full.

The vehicle was in good shape, seats were comfortable, and the air conditioning was on. The van moved right on time, and throughout the journey, all stops were reached within a minute or two of the scheduled time. At its peak, the van carried 10 people, split evenly between men and women. Despite rush hour traffic, I managed to reach my drop-off point right on time. The 21-kilometer commute cost me a grand total of Rs. 50.

The payment for Airlift is made through the app. Users have the options of buying various packages through their credit or debit cards; each ride costs Rs. 50. Their current prices and packages are reflected in the image below:

What Needs Improvement

To start with, the app needs a bit of tweaking to work better. While the map integration and vehicle tracking are spot on, the UI is not as friendly or intuitive as it should be.

There is no listing of all the routes operated by Airlift and at times, search results will not show all of the available routes. Moreover, search results are not sorted by order of time (earliest to latest or vice versa), and cannot be sorted by distance to pick-up point. There is also no route map to pick and choose from, which should be a necessity for any public transport network. The app currently does not allow bookings for an entire week or month either.

Airlift currently does not run on weekends, but maybe that is something the firm itself would not bank on. Another point I would like to emphasize on is vehicle branding, or the lack thereof, as in my case if I had not checked the app tracking, I would have continued to wait for a red van that would never have shown up.

Even if the entire vehicle cannot be branded at this stage, prominent signs can be placed behind the windscreen, or the vehicle’s registration number, which is usually obscured by guard bars, can be pasted on the front and back of the vehicle in a more prominent manner. Another quick fix would be to simply add a photo of the vehicle at the booking stage so riders know what to look for.

Another factor that should be stressed upon is the establishment of a dedicated helpline. Pakistani consumers, tech savvy or not, are more comfortable when they are able to access and speak to another human, even if it is for simple inquiries such as timing, payment methods, etc.

For its initial period of service, Airlift should have a team of dedicated CSRs on hand to answer even the simplest of inquiries; that can act as a cornerstone of the company’s outreach activities and build good will among consumers. Inspiration, in this case, can be drawn from Careem, which recently shifted to a home-based work system for their customer service helpline.

Lastly, while users do have the option of suggesting routes, and Airlift actively encourages users to get their friends/colleagues on board for their proposed routes, there is no information on upcoming routes or proposals under consideration. If such a section were to be added, it is highly likely that new consumers themselves would group up together through the app, making it easier for the company to identify realistic demand.


Airlift is an excellent way to get around for a fraction of the cost of other ride sharing services. The fact that you have a guaranteed seat and will be more or less on time (save a couple of minutes here and there), along with air conditioning and new(ish) vehicles place it levels above the existing public transport system. All in all, it is an excellent choice for commuters and students (over 16) alike, as long as you can get to/from the designated points with ease.

*The Airlift application now maintains that they only use Toyota Hiace Grand Cabins for use.

The Author does not work for, consult, own shares in, or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article. The views expressed herein are solely the author’s and are not intended as, nor should be taken as, definitive or decisive in any way, shape or form.

Image via: Wikimedia Commons

  • Took their service first time today, it was indeed an awesome experience at a cheap cost.

  • they need to increase their buses and timings in karachi…the seats are always booked full for the next 2 days. One of the worst part is that they do not follow the route exactly as on map which cause delays in reaching destination.

    • Please provide web site, phone contact, a disclaimer from the authorized bank of the company about the fulfillment of their claimed obligation to the riders. The SECP legislation to provide or under write insurance claim for accident, injury, death is included in the cost of the ticket. Hope they would fulfill the obligations statutory compliances under the UN Road Safety Commission in Karachi road transport.

    • Its their start, instead of criticizing them support them, if you have issue go on pathetic public transports in Karachi.

  • There’s no authenticity with PP about the authors authority, genuineness. In view of the scarcity of space etc., the space is donated to the company free of cost in the interest of the readers. There should be a disclaimer how the rides are authentic, discipline, from a banking, regulatory authority which doesn’t exist, or a comment from Uber, Careem. In anycase beggars are not chooses.

  • Deeply analysis by your side, if they also register their customer with nominal annual subscription charges for accidential coverage issurance for customer and bus drivers (own by company) they might increase their revenue and customer satisfactions.
    Need to updated their app and recommended to associate with big transport group or to get big investment in their business to increase of buses etc to decrease chances of new rival in industry.

  • I think we should support,best service in affordable rates. In Karachi we can not expect such service from government as we only seeing construction of green line bus since last 3 and half years….

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