It was a relatively cool evening after what had been a sunny day by the standards of otherwise moderate weather in a leafy neighborhood of Islamabad. I was in town after quite a few years and was expecting my friend to pick me up, but he failed to show up because there was some sort of a transport strike in the federal capital and he had to go pick her sister who was stuck on her way home from university.
I somehow managed my way to the friend’s home thanks to the newly-launched Metro Bus. But such uncertainty is the hallmark of public transport in the capital, especially when it comes to female commuters who already have very limited options in terms of commuting to their places of work on a daily basis.
Next day I met Hira Batool Rizvi, a young entrepreneur who has started a ride-sharing platform to ease off the burden of commuting for working women, providing them with safer and cheaper alternative — SheKab.
We sat at an upmarket restaurant amid the high-rise buildings housing head offices of multinational companies in the commercial hub of the city.
“Women working in offices around here pay around Rs25-35,000 per month just to commute between their office and home,” she said after our formal introductions, coming directly to the point, adding that “in most cases this sum amounts to more than 50 per cent of their total salary”.
A new service in Islamabad is empowering women drivers who cater exclusively to women clients as men, it believes, manage their commute conveniently. Really?
“I was also among these women till a few years back, but upon returning from the United States last year after completing my scholarship, I decided to launch a ride-sharing platform for women in Islamabad.”
Hira shared that the initial idea was derived from ride-sharing services like Uber and B&B in the US. “But considering the demographics and security situation of the country, we could not just initiate a service involving random drivers. So we devised a proper diligence and background check mechanism to screen the drivers,” said Hira.
Following the screening, the drivers were given proper training and were informed about the incentives and profits they can achieve by signing up with the service.
“Unlike other such initiatives which relied on newly commissioned fleet of cars/rickshaws and drivers, we commissioned the on-street taxi drivers who were already active to and from the capital and were well aware of the locations,” explained Hira.
“This made our initiative more practical and also didn’t make it a specific target; a win-win situation for both the drivers and commuters.”
In a span of few months, the service has expanded to around a hundred listed commuters and a fleet of about a couple of dozen cars, of which a few are driven by women drivers.
“Our main vision is to empower women drivers and to make our commuters with their own cars confident enough to share ride with others,” said Hira with a touch of activism in her voice.
A computer engineer by profession, Hira has developed an online portal through which women who need to share a ride can approach the company. There she maintains a list of commuters, and guides them through the services provided by company.
As our discussion came to an end, I bid farewell to her and came out of the cafe which was still bustling with activity as it was lunch time in the offices. It was hot even today and I had to look for a taxi as SheKab doesn’t share ride with men. I wondered why, and was told that it was relatively convenient for men to manage their commute.
“Only if they say so,” I thought while paying a hefty sum for travelling just a few kilo metres in a taxi.
Published in Dawn December 29th, 2016