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August 11, 2018

Problems for women exist in online transport services


August 11, 2018

Islamabad : Given the ever increasing mobility and transport needs of Pakistanis, especially in bigger cities, and the failure of government to provide an efficient transport infrastructure, the citizens have been largely relying on private transportation services since long.

Until a few years back, the transportation services in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad mainly constituted the taxis for relatively well-to-do people, while the middle and working class would generally opt for old-fashioned wagons.

However, the recent introduction and expansion of online transportation services, has been nothing short of a blessing for the citizens of twin cities. With their GPS and Navigation system, as well as 24 hour service, the rides for the citizens are just a click (or a touch) away. These services claim to have transformed the structure of transportation facilities for Pakistanis and have made their lives easier, which is, in fact, the case with several customer experiences. On the other hand, they have generated numerous opportunities.

However, as they say, opportunities and challenges go hand in hand. These riding services have provided opportunities for people to earn easily however; this also means that practically anyone with a vehicle is qualified to be a driver for these services. In a country like Pakistan, where security is a prevalent issue, especially for women, this poses a lot of challenges.

It has been observed that one of the niche markets of these online riding services is women, especially those working in different professions. With these online riding services, women are now beginning to develop a sense of independence, relying less on their male relatives for transportation needs. Although a lot of security challenges regarding these services have been recently reported through the media, one issue that keeps popping up in the news is the issue of harassment. Whether it’s physical harassment, or otherwise, there have been numerous reports from women passengers in recent past. In a society that is already male-dominated and where it takes a lot of courage and resilience for a woman to go out and earn, such incidents weaken their spirits and engender a sense of fear and insecurity among them.

There is an issue of illiteracy and/or ignorance which needs to be addressed in this scenario. Although there are educated yet unemployed individuals who turn to such services to earn, there are still a lot of the drivers who hail from remote areas of our country and come to cities like Islamabad for earning. The drivers have probably never been exposed to women who stand up or are opinionated. That is probably the reason that the drivers often misbehave with female passengers. Apart from the physical harassment which is reported, there is this sense of superiority, probably engrained in one’s mind since childhood, which makes them believe that getting dictated by a woman is an insult. Many professional women as well as female students have reported that they get treated either rudely or indecently by the drivers on almost daily basis. What adds to the problem is the fact that a lot of these drivers lack the road sense and some are even unfamiliar with the routes of the city.

One female journalist, who chooses to be anonymous, reported that she has experienced this issue a number of times. According to her, if she was not that well-versed with the routes of the city, she would not have been able to travel through these online transport services as the drivers do not have any sense of the locations. She added that a number of times, when the drivers are un-able comprehend what she says, they start misbehaving.

One female student reported that the drivers of these companies have come up with ways to deceive female passengers, considering them soft targets. She reported that she called a driver of one such transport company to a shopping mall. She kept waiting for the driver but he was at the opposite gate of the mall and didn’t bother to come where she asked him to. When she finally found the driver, he said that he had been waiting for the passenger since 5 minutes, and as per the company policy, extra Rs100 are charged when the driver waits for 5 minutes or more. This infuriated this student, as it was the driver’s fault that he arrived at the wrong place and then pressed the ‘Arrived’ button when he hadn’t even found the passengers.

Moreover, these well-known transport companies do little to address the complaints of passengers. In addition to that, the customer complaint set-up of these companies is almost dysfunctional. The complaints are not accepted through calls, and the customers are asked to email the problem. When the issue is emailed, the company sends an auto-generated reply and nothing happens afterwards. What adds to the frustration of the passengers is the fact that most of such companies do not have a physical location of office, where customers can file their complaints.

The women commuters suggested that the complaint mechanism shall be made more commuters friendly and the new drivers especially from remote areas shall be trained on how to behave with the passengers especially women. “No doubt the online transportation is a blessing for women but there is a need to address these tendencies otherwise it will discourage women to travel freely at all the time through these services,” said a student.

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