‘After years of building the ride-hailing ecosystem in Pakistan, the Covid-19 pandemic struck and changed everything that had been learnt and planned out for the next few years. No one had predicted how long this pandemic would drag on for and how much impact it would have on the demand for rides – but it did force us to pivot in a very short time and use our innovative technology to continue moving what matters under the new normal, and we have successfully been able to do that in our communities,’ shared Shahid Khan, Country Head at Uber Pakistan during a recent virtual webinar conducted by Nur International University in Lahore.
In conversation with the session’s moderator Salem Rehman, the Vice Chancellor at Nur International University, Shahid talked about the kind of technology ride-hailing companies like Uber have had to employ to offer various kinds of safety measures for their riders and drivers both, pre and post the pandemic.
‘For any global business being introduced locally, it is necessary to keep the local safety norms and protocols in mind to customize any service that is being offered. Rider and partner driver safety has always been a priority at Uber, and pre-pandemic, we had consistently focused on innovating to make rides safer and easier for all. This included all the safety measures we had taken, including screenings and trainings during driver onboarding, establishing community guidelines, options to ‘Share my Trip’ in real time, caller anonymization, trusted contacts, and most importantly, a Safety Center and emergency button within the app,’ Shahid said, ‘The pandemic, however, helped us pivot quickly and shift our focus to Covid-specific safety measures and new products, in order to not only continue to provide mobility services to our markets, but also to assist the local authorities in keeping everyone safe.’
During the initial stages of the pandemic and its consequent lockdown measures in Pakistan, Uber ran a campaign encouraging its riders to stay at home. ‘For a mobility company, this was a powerful statement, especially after we lost a large part of our business during the lockdown. But our priority was safety for all, and that’s what mattered,’ Shahid revealed. Subsequent to its original stay-at-home campaign, Uber launched its ‘No Mask, No Ride’ strategy next, before globally unveiling its US $50 million #MoveWhatMatters campaign to help ensure every driver on the platform had access to personal protective equipment.
‘Through AI and innovation in-app, we were able to use facial recognition technology to make sure our partner drivers were wearing masks during the rides. We also took no time in adding new services to our portfolio with the dynamic demands. Uber Medics was launched during the peak of the pandemic to provide free transport services to frontline healthcare workers. We were able to benefit more than 50,000 doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers through this service. We partnered with UNESCO and then with Mastercard to provide free rides to and from vaccination centers for our riders. More than 30,000 individuals were given free rides to and from vaccination centers in Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad. Similarly, Uber Connect was launched in Pakistan to help continue providing earning opportunities to our partner drivers under restrictive lockdown measures,’ Shahid added.
When asked about what’s in store next for Uber in Pakistan in terms of safety, Khan commented, ‘Different pockets across the world have differing needs and definitions for safety and security. The kind products we work on depend a lot on local norms and culture. For example, an audio recording option for rides and drivers is being launched here, which is specific only for Pakistan. This unique technology helps a user record voices within the vehicle in case of any danger of harassment or crime, which can only be accessed by Uber’s secure servers if an issue is raised. Every place has its own nuances, and we have worked to make sure we cater to those while continuing to help people and things move.’
Concluding the conversation, Shahid Khan expressed, ‘We live in interesting times, which can be a curse, or can be a blessing as well. Times are volatile and uncertain, but we have managed to learn a lot from it and innovate consistently accordingly. At the end of the day, pandemic or no pandemic, there is a huge demand for ride-hailing services, and as long as we keep using new technology to ensure safety for all, we will continue to overcome unprecedented hurdles.