According to the 2017 World Bank study, in the last one decade, average traffic speed of the city has dropped to seven kilometres per hour from 21 kilometres per hour, leading to a loss of about 3.2 million working hours every day. And this is the reason why the popularity of ride-hailing services soared amongst the daily commuters.
The advantage of hailing the motorbike services is that these vehicles can move through the narrow lanes and somehow skirt round the traffic congestion in the city.
Ride-sharing services saw its beginning back in 2015 with couple of companies serving the public. At present, Uber, Pathao, Shohoz, and OBHAI transport hundreds of thousands of people every day on motorcycles navigating through narrow alleys and congested traffic lanes. Also, the industry has experienced a sudden growth.
According to 2018 study of Policy Research Institute, the ride-sharing industry in Bangladesh is worth an estimated Tk2200 crore and accounts for about 23% of the transport sector in the country. In a report published in Reuters this year, the chief executive officer of Pathao, Hussain M Elius has stated that they currently have 200,000 registered drivers around the country ready to pick up commuters. This certainly is a sign of progress. But there are issues that come in with such progress.
Around the world, passengers are now hailing more than 10.5 billion rides a year. And, not all of these rides ended the way it should have ended. Uber Technologies came under fire in India after a 26-year-old woman was raped by one of its drivers in 2014, and local rival Ola has faced similar backlash for a similar incident. In the US, Lyft Inc has been sued by multiple women who say drivers sexually assaulted them.
In Bangladesh, several complaints surfaced over time. Earlier this year, two women complained that they were physically assaulted by an Uber driver while they were availing the service in the city.
There is a long list of problems when it comes to ride-sharing services in Bangladesh. But the most worrisome and common among the complaints from the users is that the ride-sharing companies continue to neglect most complaints.
Also, as far as liability is concerned, some of these are simply not so keen on attending to issues concerning drivers' ill-behaviour, not picking up passengers after accepting a call, repeatedly asking about the destination, and requesting the user to go on an offline trip.
Since some of the companies are yet to make their hotline numbers operational, users cannot get immediate response from them. Often it is seen that these companies have a tendency not to reply to the queries received from the media houses.
However, if negligence adds to the worries on the part of the commuters, with safety they have been left in the lurch. Additionally, the growing offline ride hailing also poses a huge security threat for the commuters as well. And the recent murder of a bike rider Milon on Mouchak-Malibagh flyover on August 26, while on an offline trip, gives basis to the rinsing concern.
Bangladesh is one of those countries where highest number death in road accidents occurs. More than 4,000 people die each year. Unskilled bike drivers and reckless driving are often cited as one of the main reasons for a recent spike in traffic accidents in the country.
Kazi Md Shifun Newaz, Assistant Professor at the Accident Research Institute of BUET said, "Motorbike riders need to be very much trained before he starts to provide ride-sharing services. Though the idea of ride sharing was a freelance module, many people have taken it up as a full-time job and most of them have come from outside Dhaka. Additionally, they do not know the city and its roads very well and as result accidents happen. Also, there are tendencies amongst the bikers to go on offline trips. All this together increases the possibility of security breach."
"Apart from providing helmets and training their partners how to use the app, the ridesharing companies must arrange a vigorous training session for their partners, where the riders will be trained on the traffic rules and road safety issues," adds the professor.
Now the question is, did the ride-sharing companies took any specific steps to stop these trips other than saying that they always discourage offline trips? Also, do they do a background check before hiring a rider/partner for their platforms?
Do the companies arrange for special examinations to test the skills?
The Business Standard team approached Pathao and Uber with some specific queries about their hiring process before choosing to partner with drivers as well as how they are addressing the security issues. Uber did not reply to the queries, though their floating advertisements on the digital platform says that it is only a 10-minute-long procedure to register as a driver for Uber.
Marketing executive of Pathao, Osman Saleh said, "All the riders and drivers in our ride-sharing platform are freelance partners. Pathao thoroughly verifies all submitted necessary documents. These documents include, among others, driver's license, fitness certificate, national id card or passport."
"Safety is our utmost concern. To ensure safety, we make sure that both our riders and users are wearing helmets. We make sure the identities of our riders and drivers are verified. We also thoroughly train them. For our valued users, there are also multiple safety features built directly into our app. Users can share their live location with trusted friends and family members. In case of any issues, users can directly place a call to 999 from our app by using a dedicated button," he explained.
"Offline trips raise serious safety issues, and we are continually working towards discouraging such practices. We are eager to work with the authorities and the policymakers towards curbing offline trips," he added.
Now, if we look at a not so far away country from ours, Malaysia, according to a news on Bloomberg, is a country where regulators now require aspiring drivers to pass written exams and go through health check-ups to register for specific permits.
The government has recently introduced the Road Transport Act, 2018. The discomfort with which some experts were referring to the act revolved around the slapping huge fines. Some feel this will not solve the problems at hand.
The new law posits that the violators of traffic regulations would be penalised heavily. A breach of the law will entail a large sum of fines. Hopefully, the inclusion of riders with fake documents in the ride-sharing companies might also come to a stop, or at least a reduction in their rate would follow. However, the ride-sharing companies should also take steps to hire quality drivers rather than hiring anyone just to make more money, risking users' security.