By Ahmed Ahsen
Ok folks, enough with technology.
Lets step back to the humble streets where we spend most of our time drawing in polluted air that will do God knows what twenty years down the road.
As someone who likes to get around the city in comfort, the likes of Careem and Uber have been nothing less than a blessing. Sure I do own a car, but then again who wants to get their vehicle scratched up in Lahore traffic, not to mention parking and theft issues. There are also those who advocate bikes as the only suitable sawari in Lahore. To an extent, I agree with that, but there are just some times when even that becomes too hectic – for example when you have luggage or other valuables.
I decided to take some ride-hailing services in Lahore for a spin. And I’ve decided to pen down my thoughts about them.
Here is my experience testing out Careem, Uber, and a Taxi in Lahore over a period of about one year:
Touted as the new pet project of the ruling family in Punjab, Albayrak’s A-Taxi was launched within a fortnight in February of this year. Boasting brand new Honda City and Suzuki Swift vehicles (a first time role for both of these cars), A-Taxi promised to revolutionize domestic travel.
Here are some of their features:
- Always On Price Display: The cost is continuously displayed on the rear view mirror. A highly convenient feature so you can choose to jump out in the middle of the Canal Bank road in case you run out of cash.
- App and Call Center: “Quick and easy”, 24 hour service. This has to be a world first, right?
- Full Air conditioning: Let’s just leave it at that.
- Navigation and GPS: You can be assured of a safe journey through continuous monitoring of the vehicles (that’s right, the vehicles are valuable).
What I Experienced:
- The Call Center: Horrible
It took 6 phone calls over a 3 hour period for my cab to arrive. My booking earlier was cancelled without informing me. I called in at the expected time to have another booking made. That was also cancelled. Then the call center agent in charge of bookings went on a smoke break and so on and so forth.
- The App: Doesn’t Work
First I couldn’t find the app, thanks to A-Taxi using the Turkish language version (no English) on Google Play. When I did, I couldn’t download it, so I decided to go to the call center instead.
- The Cars: Just Okay
How much can you complain when the driver tells you the mess was made by the last family and he will get fired if you raise the issue? These brand new vehicles show more than their fair age and a band of mechanical noises plays whenever you pass over a rough patch on the road.
- The Staff: Awful
The call center works on a “sarkari” attitude. They even yell at you and tell you to wait, “sabar nahi hota? Ajaye gi gari” (Cant you wait? The car will come when it comes) . The drivers are overly apologetic, sir we will get fired, please don’t make a complain, sir they will cut our salaries, sir please don’t raise a quality issue.
- The Cost: Extreme!
Despite the delays and rude staff, you still get slapped with a high and mighty bill. On average my estimate (read: estimate, not calculation) was about 40 percent higher than Uber or Careem.
The Verdict: Best avoided at all cost.
A helpful tip: If you are in an area where you can’t find another option, try City Cab or Metro Cab (the guys from the airport). You can get their numbers off the web. They cater to families and corporate clients regularly, and while the cost is higher than a taxi, they will reach any area of Lahore at any time.
Careem was launched in Pakistan in late 2015 after a successful career in the Middle East. The service successfully implemented the online booking system for cars and became a hit.
Here are some of their features:
- An App That Works (Most of the Time): Before the last update, the app was as good as useless and you had to use your browser to do bookings. However, Careem actually managed to make an app that now works most of the time. There are some issues when GPS locations aren’t accurate, so you are forced to either text or call the driver if that happens.
- Large Range of Vehicles: You can catch rides in a compact compact from Japan like the Honda N One or a Daihatsu Mira, or you can always have the king of Pakistani roads, the Toyota Corolla (cue incoming hate from Civic fans). There are different classes – economy, business and wifi, with their own separate rates. However, in many cases, you get upgraded to a sedan even if you are booking an economy ride.
- Drivers are Polite: Most of the drivers, whether employees or vendors, are polite and easy to talk to. There are always exceptions though.
- Reliable Enough:
For important engagements, I make sure to spend Rs. 100 extra and make a booking well before time. On other occasions, the cars arrive usually within 10 to 15 minutes of ordering so its reliable enough.
- Problems with Location:
The biggest complaint is that the location on the app is either not accurate, shows up elsewhere on the drivers phone, or the drivers cant navigate to it. To avoid any undue delays or difficulty, I have to make sure to text or call the drivers once the ride is booked. Many drivers tell me about receiving directions opposite from my direction, or being re routed all the way around when there are shortcuts available.
- The Call Center:
Unless you have just booked a ride, be prepared to hold for 30 minutes on average. If you have just booked or finished a ride, their system puts you through to an operator in 2-5 minutes. On the downside, this means that to get any information or to make a complaint, you have to endure 30 minutes of useless drivel telling you to download the app.
- Call Center Agents Can’t Really Help Outside of Booking or Cancelling a Ride:
The concept of customer service got lost somewhere in the Careem building. The call center agents are there to book rides, cancel rides, or assign new drivers to your booking. They cant address issues with your payments or take other complaints. For that you have to email Careem.
- The Complaint System is Highly Mismanaged:
I’ve had the opportunity to test out Careem’s complaint system. Emails usually go unresponded for 3-4 days before you get frantic calls from their “customer service” team – a highly ironic name for a bunch of folks who say the issue never happened and that you’re probably lying to weasel out a free ride from them. Unless you email their GM in Pakistan (hint: check the website), your issue will go unresolved – I guarantee it.
- Promo Problems:
Careem does offer good promos, but at times the codes don’t get accepted, because their official page made a typo while sharing it with fans.
- Card Payment Problems:
Their recent credit card deal (20% off for credit card and MCB lite users) received several complaints of duplicate charges – meaning people were charged twice for one ride. Till the time of the writing of this article, that issue has not been resolved.
- Other Complaints:
Here are some other issues drivers have reported: bike riders following them when they have female passengers, harassing females, or trying to get their numbers. There have been reports of passengers leaving their valuable stuff like phones or laptops inside cars, only to have them disappear for good. This is not to say all drivers are like that, but it is always in your interest to be cautious.
The Verdict: Good pricing, nice deals (if you can get them to work) and fairly reliable. Vehicle availability is good during working hours. Don’t expect much in terms of customer service though.
As much as we’d love to have Starbucks here, Uber did arrive first so here goes: Uber launched in Pakistan in the mid of 2016. The US corporation has invested a fairly large amount in trying to revolutionize cab transport in Pakistan.
Here are some of their features:
- A Working App:
Uber was the first one in Pakistan to have an app that actually worked accurately. Hats off to Uber for bringing in that and forcing the competition to improve.
Most drivers I have come across in Uber are vehicle owners, not drivers. This means they know shortcuts and generally provide a higher level of service.
- Good Customer Support:
Uber doesn’t have a call center (major flaw here Uber folks!) but you can email them with your issues. The good thing is their US customer reps do reply and your issues do get resolved quickly.
What They Can Improve:
- Playing with the Price:
Sure, price hikes may work abroad, but it’s a new concept in Pakistan. Many users have permanently turned away from Uber because of the 1.3 or 1.5 price surges.
- No Physical Office:
Ask any Uber driver, and you will hear this complaint: who are these people? Why don’t they have a permanent office? Why isn’t there a helpline we can call on? You’d think for the amount of Pakistani staff hired by Uber and for what they get paid, someone would have had the sense to tell the company about the cultural significance of having a local point of contact. As a result, any serious issues or complaints will have to be emailed and then you can wait for Uber to take its sweet time getting back to you while suffering from emotional or physical trauma.
- Carefree Attitude of Some Drivers:
Many drivers exhibit a dangerously carefree attitude. ‘If the company has no office or people here, who will catch me?’ (direct quote).
- Some Uber Auto Ricksha Drivers Deceive Customers:
Uber just launched a ricksha service, Uber Auto. Great, but does Uber know some ricksha drivers purposefully take the long way or wrong directions to earn more?
The Verdict: A fairly nice experience and great app. My friends from Saudi Arabia were surprised at their efficiency, which they claim doesn’t exist in KSA. Even though Uber is new here, they have made waves in the local travel market. Don’t expect much from their contractors though. Vehicle availability varies widely, sometimes you can’t get a ride even at 7 pm on a weekend. Surge pricing is another turn off.
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 Author has based his review on a period of use extending six months at various times, on various vehicles. A thorough testing of each companies customer support has been conducted through actual complaints and issues, and follow ups have been done to ensure their true levels of customer service.