Pakistan should app the ante on data security

Besides, Peshawar is using the public-private partnership to reduce response time for ambulances and fire brigades.

By Waqar Mustafa

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Published: Sat 16 Nov 2019, 6:00 PM

Last updated: Sat 16 Nov 2019, 8:55 PM

A Middle Eastern ride-sharing app triggered a controversy in Pakistan earlier this year for an ad featuring a bride that said, "If you want to run from your wedding, then book a . Bike!" Such occasional teacup storms aside, ride-hailing apps are winning clients in a big way in the South Asian country where people have traditionally used cabs, buses, and rickshaws to commute. People in large cities now have a growing list of cheap transportation options to choose from. According to a Gallup and Gilani Pakistan survey, eight per cent of Pakistani adults - both men and women from all parts of the country - use these services once a month at least.
The demand for quality transportation in Pakistan - the sixth most populous country in the world with a 2.4 per cent growth rate - is growing fast, courtesy a rapid urbanisation. According to the country's Planning Commission, people travel nearly 400 billion passenger-kilometres (pkm) each year, which is expected to rise to 1,000bn pkm by 2030 burdening the transport infrastructure. The urban population which is about 76 million or 36 per cent of the population now is set to reach around 60 per cent by 2025. A functioning and reliable public transport system is absent or insufficient in the metropolitan cities. It has transpired at a recent panel discussion on transport and mobility in Pakistan's largest city of Karachi that 45 people struggle for one seat in a public bus in the country and so, there is a need for cheaper and safer commute options.
For about three years, ride-hailing services have made travel easy, convenient, and personalised for some through a wide range of vehicles run by both women and men. Some in fact are only meant for women and children and offer more control over fare calculation, and route. Moreover, the service charges are fixed, so no need for haggling to get the best price. Besides, Peshawar is using the public-private partnership to reduce response time for ambulances and fire brigades. These two services are now available from ride-hailing company's app.
Deliveries have been added and payments and credit transfers are to come. In recent days, new ride-sharing initiatives have gained significant attention. These systems allow users to "pool" together on a single vehicle, to and from common pick-up and drop-off points. This was unthinkable a few years ago.
Multiple opportunities exist in the transport sector in Pakistan. It has, however, faced problems in tax, route permits, and licensing. Things have improved for businesses. Pakistan has risen 28 spots to 108th position in the global ease of doing business rankings this year, according to the World Bank. Reforms have helped Pakistan in improving the ease of doing business in the country. Its improvement in rankings say it all: Pakistan is the sixth global reformer and first in South Asia. What the country needs now is an investor-friendly transport policy that can iron out issues faced by transport startups.
Women want a reliable service to travel safely from one point to another, irrespective of time and location. This can only happen if we have women-centric safety polices in place and strict implementation of it. For instance, in case of a misconduct, the drivers or riders can be reported and their service terminated. Also, there should be a rigorous screening process before hiring drivers. The service providers should take strict action in case of complaints of harassment, especially if it is targeted towards a minority. They should run campaigns in each city of operation to encourage women to sign up as drivers to improve the gender divide in the partners. They should regularly train and retrain all employees in gender sensitivity, customer dealing. Motorcycles too have become a part of the ride-hailing revolution, and it serves the low-income group right. They need more such services to travel safely and at affordable fare.
According to nongovernmental organisation Digital Rights Foundation, personal data protection legislation must be enacted. Such a law should provide regulation for rideshare applications and their approach to data protection of users. The government should require the ride hailing services to conduct regular security audits, the reports of which must be made publically available. The service providers need to focus on customer service and security, in light of the international legal, ethical and social trends on privacy and personal data protection.
Such steps will ensure that a sustainable public transport system is in place allowing for the use of rideshare applications to grow manifold.
-Waqar Mustafa is a journalist based in Lahore, Pakistan

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