• Tuesday, March 05, 2024
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BusinessDay

A rider’s Uber-ghastly experience in Bangladesh

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Public transportation can be a harrowing tale in Dhaka. From arbitrary price hiking of CNG-run three wheeler drivers to overcrowded, shambolic buses that ply the roads, reliable transportation is still a distant dream in the city. In the midst of such a backdrop, Uber, which is a ride-hailing technology, began its operations in Dhaka in 2016. According to IDLC Monthly Business Review, Uber became popular due to its convenience. Much like calling a taxi, you can hire an Uber vehicle from the convenience of your home with just a few taps on your mobile phone.

As someone accustomed to government vehicles (owing to my father’s occupation as a civil engineer) and private cars, I decided to ride Uber whenever I was in need of a car and did not have a private one. I realised then that Uber is not as convenient as it is touted to be, and there are several loopholes—mostly driver-centric—that needed to be tackled.

First, the drivers rarely initiate contact upon reaching a location. How are we supposed to know if they have arrived at or recognised the pick-up point? Even if they do, they rely on Internet-based free calls, which is problematic with poor connectivity. Some illiterate drivers render chat or messaging options obsolete. These communication issues need resolution.

Second, the first question drivers ask is about the drop-off location or destination. This reminds me of CNG-run three-wheelers, whose drivers behave similarly. If the destination doesn’t suit their preferences, they refuse the trip and demand you cancel. Imagine my dismay when they refuse to cancel, fearing their driver profiles will be blocked, and insist you cancel.

Third, owing to illiteracy, the drivers do not know how to navigate according to the location in the Uber application. This creates a headache for the users as they have to repeat and locate the destination and pick-up points for the drivers verbally and step-by-step.

Fourth, once the drivers reach the location, which also happens to be a residence or office, they just refuse to enter the gates. They park in the middle of the street, and the users have to walk to their vehicles. Even if you request them to enter the building, they just reluctantly inquire, “Do we have to enter the gates? Can you not walk towards us?” This looks good in developed countries where the crime rate is lower and the footpaths are conducive to walking.

However, in Dhaka, this becomes insensitive, arduous and unsafe due to potholes and if you are a woman heavily dressed and adorned with jewellery going to a party for instance.

Fifth, often the location in the user’s application does not match the one in the driver’s application. This could be a technical glitch or the result of a poor Internet network. The location specification takes time to be updated. The drivers need to be educated about this. No matter how much you explain this to them, they refuse to move forward and ask you to change the location instead.

Changing the location results in higher fare with no corresponding change in the destination. This obstinacy needs to be changed. Sometimes, generally, the drivers can get very rude.

Sixth, a few cunning drivers will drive extra miles and take a roundabout approach to the locations, just to increase the final fare. The excuse they provide is that they are trying to avoid traffic congestion. Ironically, sometimes a few misinformed drivers refuse to travel extra miles or wait for a few minutes, even if the users assure them that the final fare will be adjusted according to distance and wait-time fees.

Lastly, there is little difference between the Premier and the UberX vehicles, even though the former charges a premium fare. Either the air conditioner does not work or the vehicle is worn out. Why should I pay a higher price if the service offered is not of higher quality?

I commend Uber for its immaculate breakthrough in the transportation sector of Bangladesh and for providing relief to its millions of growing middle-class users. Uber has reportedly contributed about BDT 45 billion to the country’s economy in 2021, and this is all very good. However, these aforementioned loopholes need to be resolved for greater success, and it will be easily done if a customer focus is ingrained in the minds of the drivers who are the primary contact points of Uber.

Being an avid user of this platform, I sincerely hope that the bull is taken by the horn and that these issues are resolved.