Why Uber should stay far away from Pakistan

Published: November 2, 2015
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An illustration picture shows the logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone next to the picture of an official German taxi sign in Frankfurt, September 15, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

Uber, a company worth around $50 billion has decided to launch its operations in Pakistan – wonderful news for our developing nation, is it not? Well, in actuality, not really.

Uber is a controversial private taxi service currently based in over 60 countries, and is notorious for the numerous legal, safety, regulatory as well as privacy issues it faces. Before I expand on these risks and issues, let me first brief the readers on what Uber is and how it operates.

Uber is a web-based service through which you can ask strangers in your vicinity to arrive at your destination and give you a ride, much like a private taxi. The payment is conveniently charged from your credit card. It’s easy for anyone to be hired as a driver for Uber – all that is needed is a working car, a license and a 13-minute YouTube video to be watched. Though it sounds like the perfect, simple idea, probably causing you to say, “Why didn’t I ever think of this before?”, it is just too good to be true.

First of all, the fact that anyone with a working car can drive an Uber taxi leaves a huge question mark on the security of the service. The driver could be anyone; a teacher and a criminal have equal chances of being your driver. In August 2015, it was discovered in Los Angeles that four drivers had been allowed to operate by Uber despite having records of manslaughter, identity theft, child exploitation and DUI. Though Uber runs background checks and promises that, “ridesharing and livery drivers in the US are screened through a process that includes county, federal, and multi-state criminal background checks”, these security measures have been criticised for being too easy and simple to evade.

To date, three deaths have been reported in Uber accidents, five alleged kidnappings, 10 cases of imposters, over 30 charges of sexual assaults and harassment incidents and 17 cases of physical assaults. Keeping in mind that these incidents have occurred mostly in developed and leading nations including the US, Australia and Britain, we can only imagine the security threats that Uber faces in Pakistan – a country already greatly disturbed by terrorism.

What is worse is the fact that many a times, Uber’s management acts highly irresponsibly in times of such issues. In January 2014, Syed Muzaffar, an Uber driver in San Francisco was responsible for running over and killing a six-year-old girl. Uber denied any responsibility for the driver’s action, even though it was later discovered that Muzaffar was previously convicted for reckless driving – another failure of Uber’s background checks.

Moreover, Uber claims that to keep personal information private, only the first name of the rider is provided to the driver. However, their claims of privacy remain doubtful. In March 2014, Olivia Nuzzi shared her disturbing experience with Uber on The Daily Beast. She writes,

“At the end of the ride, the Uber driver asked me if I had been near Lincoln Centre a few hours earlier. I said I hadn’t, since I didn’t remember walking past there. Then he took out his iPad. ‘Really?’ he asked. ‘Because you look like this girl,’ he turned the iPad around to face the back seat. To my surprise, I saw a full-length, close-up picture of me, wearing the workout clothes I’d had on an hour previously.”

Of course, the woman immediately filed a complaint and the driver was fired, but that it is not where it ends. Contrary to Uber’s claim of keeping contact information private, the driver managed to contact her via email and Facebook.

Uber’s short history already overflows with great amounts of such horrifying incidents. Adding to that are the legal challenges it is always faced by in several countries and has been subjected to protests from taxi drivers, taxi companies, and governments around the world.

In San Francisco last year, the district attorneys filed a civil suit against the company and sought a permanent injunction against the service regarding their claim that its background checks screened out drivers who were committed of a crime.

To date, protests have been staged in countries including Britain, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Brazil, China and in India – where a 26-year-old passenger claimed of being raped by her Uber driver. Often these protests and other legal issues have led to the taxi service being banned in certain regions of countries including Japan, Thailand, France, Brazil and South Korea.

To say the least, a company already leaking with abundance of issues and risks may very well prove to be perilous to users living in the sensitive areas of Pakistan, as it already has in numerous other countries. Though the cities of Pakistan do need an overhaul in the ever deteriorating taxi services, Uber is not necessarily the best choice – in fact, it is amongst the riskiest choices.

Pakistan already has a long path to tread towards stability in the region. Although terrorism is in decline, petty thefts and street crimes still soar along with cases of sexual harassment and rape. Plus, owing to these conditions, in a country where people are already afraid to even confront a stranger on the street, I doubt that the idea of strangers giving other strangers rides in their cars would thrive. Perhaps it may manage to work in a few posh areas of cities such as Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, but other than that, I see a dim future for Uber in Pakistan, at least for now.

In terms of security and privacy, a taxi service in control of the respective provincial governments would fare much better and it is, after all, their responsibility to provide the citizens with comfortable means of public transportation.

In the end, I believe it would be the better choice for both Pakistan and for Uber to stay away from each other. The problems that Uber may bring to our nation; I will leave to your imaginations.

Muhammad Usama

Muhammad Usama

A student with a wide range of interests including technology, current affairs, history and writing. He tweets at @gadgetmaniah

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Jack

    Do you always know who your taxi driver or rickshaw wala is, when you signal them to stop on a road side?
    Yes, It can be a risk, but so is a random taxi and rickshaw wala in Pakistan. is there any record of all cabies who operate in Pakistan?
    At least Uber will be an online system with proper track record of drivers, car number plate and driver’s registration number. Uber can be a good source of earning for a lot of unemployed people and people who want to earn a few extra bucks beside their regular income.Recommend

  • Bairooni Haath

    Uber has grown by taking away livelihood of Pakistani taxi drivers around the world. Uber is anti-Pakistani and anti-Pakistan.Recommend

  • Ch. Allah Daad

    Perhaps you have come from Mars, otherwise everyone of us know that Federal and Provincial governments have failed to provide inexpensive, reliable and safe transport services. Isn’t it an intellectual dishonesty to cite negative examples from other countries and try to stop a service which is not even started here.Recommend

  • UmarJawed

    Just so you know, there are already start up slie Uber working in Pakistan. Companies like Tripda, Savaree and traverly.Recommend

  • Aamir

    Agreed with Jack !Recommend

  • Shridhar

    There can be 100 defects in Uber operations.. but if it can streamline the city transportation and reduce people using private cars with employment for poor people we should always welcome the new initiative…Recommend

  • Ahmad, Zubaid

    Truly a simpleton’s version of eventsRecommend

  • Crikey

    All these issues have been thought through by people who’re a lot smarter than you.Recommend

  • khurram shahzad

    stupid, stupid and stupid article to damage international name. Here in developing countries like Pakistan do we check backgrounds of random taxi or rickshaws we hire?Recommend

  • mani

    the local transport system in a developing country is not risk free… so why can’t we move towards a new trend that will definetly create jobs as wella nd can open ways for some other business tycons from silicon valley?Recommend

  • PUSHKAR TYAGI

    If an Uber driver is raping a girl, then whose fault is it? What would stop that driver in getting a local taxi and then doing this? I am an indian and by experience I can say that overall Uber has been very useful.Recommend

  • Anwaar

    trolling .. huh .. ? :)Recommend

  • Saad R.

    Illogical reasoning. Uber is still going to be many times safer than your average rickshaw or cab wala. Trust me if anyone wanted to kill or rape someone in Pakistan you would’nt wanna leave trail by registering with a company with Uber.Recommend

  • http://iShareArena.com/ M.Aswad Mehtab

    Currently you don’t even know who your taxi driver or Rikshaw driver is .. With Uber At Least you get proper background check . This Article is flawed from the start . such a waste of space ..Recommend

  • Oats

    It’s funny how a simple response from Jack makes so much sense! Yes, we don’t know who are rickshaw or taxi driver is, so what’s the difference with an Uber driver? If anything an Uber driver is traceable and subject to more scrutiny. At least there won’t be the rapes of passengers on Uber like goes on in India every day. I am sure Uber will do well in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Mohammed Ansari

    I believe that it would be much harder for Uber to work in Pakistan, but it’s not necessary to write a biased and fact-distorting article to prove that. Recommend

  • http://futurecmo.org/ Babar Khan

    Are there any background checks on riksha walas or taxi drivers ?

    In fact for Pakistan this argument can be used for the support of Uber, that at least they do “some” verification no matter how little it is of there drivers.

    The Author is doing a pretty good display of showing the Pakistani mentality:
    Criticize everything, don’t create anything.

    Regards,

    Technology journalist that actually knows this space.Recommend

  • stevenson

    I take it you are just another Pakistan obsessed Indian who has his own issues? Shouldn’t you worry more about Uber drivers raping passengers in India?Recommend

  • Nadeem
  • MAyOr

    Exactly my thought while reading immature article.Recommend

  • MAyOr

    First of all that is gonna be an online service hence the chances of the services being misused in Pakistan is quite minimum as compared to USA or other countries you’ve quoted.Recommend

  • hp kumar

    did anyone notice ,uber’s operation in pakistan is going to be looked after by “uber middle east and africa” .Pakistan is officially now part of middle east :pRecommend

  • Muhammad Usama

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Have you ever wondered why we rarely come across such cases in public transport ? You must consider the fact that while the drivers of taxis and rickshaws are among the lower classes, with probably no other source of income, Uber drivers are doing their jobs as side-jobs, for some extra earning. Obviously the taxi and rickshaw drivers would not want to lose their jobs at any cost and that is why, in my opinion, such cases are very rarely seen in public transport. Uber drivers, on the other hand, are among the more affluent and influential classes compared to the working class, making them not as hesitant to carry out such acts.

    So, by that reasoning, Uber is the riskier choice. However, obviously Uber has its pros and cons and I accept the blame that I have chosen to focus only on the cons. But the question that arises is, “Do the pros really outweigh the cons ?”Recommend

  • khalidmbajwa

    I opened this thinking it will be a smart critique on the local market, the competitors in the space (Travvly, Savaree etc), their inability to get traction,cultural aspects, payment and technology gateway issues. This is a senseless critique of Uber most of which points have already been debunked. Do your research, dont sensationalize.Recommend

  • Waleed

    Uber set to launch in Lahore. Taxi drives in Lahore and profits made for rich white men in San Francisco. Oh and Uber doesn’t pay taxes.Recommend

  • izzanaeem

    And how many taxi walas can we trace after we pay them off considering we have reached our destination safe and sound? Such a baseless article.Recommend

  • Gratgy

    Oh There will be rapes in Pakistan but never reported since how does one find 4 male witnesses in a cab. Recommend

  • Zaheer

    Flawed argument: ” Uber drivers, on the other hand, are among the more affluent and influential classes compared to the working class, making them not as hesitant to carry out such acts”. Very weak and insignificant correlation between the economic status and the acts that you are pointing out!Recommend

  • M MO

    Actually, as I have heard, Uber will only be working with established limo companies or professionally run taxi companies in Pakistan. They won’t follow the usual Uber model of hiring free lancing drivers from anywhere and everywhere, as they do in Europe and USA. Even in Dubai, Uber has tied up only with professionally managed limo companies so normal private drivers can not just get an Uber license. I think we need not worry therefore, as Uber will end up creating more professionally managed limo companies in Pakistan who will then be contracted with Uber, creating more jobs for Pakistanis and providing a much needed and decent enough private taxi / limo service in the country.Recommend

  • Razia

    It seems you are spreading propaganda against Uber. Or do you work for Careem??? I have taken Uber in many cities of the world including Turkey, Dubai, London, all across USA. Most of the time it has been an excellent experience. All of the time it has been better (and usually cheaper) than taxis. Uber drivers are not from the affluent class. They are not all doing this as a side job. And your erroneous premise that poor people are less likely to commit crimes is statistically fallacious. Please stop writing! Recommend

  • Ali

    It depends upon person criminal can be of many shapes ur boyfriend ur teacher ur neighbours so we cannot quit all these thingsRecommend

  • Magicmaninthesky Nothanks

    Of course. It has to be HALAL CERTIFIED…..!!!Recommend

  • Magicmaninthesky Nothanks

    Middle East is West Asia, India is South Asia, Pakistan is South West Asia…..LOL. Ie it is a part of Islamistan.Recommend