KARACHI, Aug 29: “Soon every rickshaw will be called a rik,” exclaims Mohsin Abbas, the owner of city’s latest transport service — Call-a-Rik.

Call-a-Rik is a rickshaw service similar to cab services that allow people to call them to their doorstep instead of the traditional method of hailing one on the roadside.

Mr Abbas came up with the idea when he saw women being harassed while hailing rickshaws on street corners as well as sitting in door-less rickshaws.

“Safety was my main concern,” he says. His rik has doors and windows with locks.

Other than doors, the rik also has an LCD TV inside with headphones to drown out noise as well as sliding windows to reduce pollution during the ride. It also boasts spacious seats, big enough to seat three people comfortably and each rik is tracked via GPS from the dispatch office, its location refreshed every 15 seconds.

“I have heard people calling it a mini-cab,” says his wife, Rehana Mohsin, who is delighted that the riks have become visible on Karachi’s streets, sharing the road with donkey-carts, minibuses, trucks and motorbikes.

The riks charge Rs10 a kilometre and currently charge a minimum of Rs100 per ride.

Launched on July 20, the service has quickly become popular, claims the owner. With only 27 rickshaws on the fleet, the riks are making 250 rides on a daily basis, he says, adding that the service is trying to meet demands of their customers.

“We hope to have 72 rickshaws by the end of the year,” he says. They have also expanded their working hours to midnight.

So far the biggest clientele for Call-a-Rik has been women travelling longer distances and a majority of the calls have been coming from the Defence neighbourhood. “I think the reason is because you can’t just walk out of your house and get a rickshaw easily in that area,” explains Ms Rehana.

“We see it as a public service,” she adds.

Alyzeh Rizvi is an architecture student who used rickshaws to get back and forth from university. Having just heard of Call-a-Rik, she thinks it is a good idea for her.

“I have been using a taxi service, which charges Rs200 per trip,” yet she prefers the taxi as compared to a rickshaw as it has closed doors and she carries a lot of supplies on her way to the varsity.

The Call-a-Rik idea has interested students like Ms Rizvi, who say that even though they have phone numbers of local rickshaw wala, they are often ripped off. “Even though I would travel less than a kilometre I was paying at least Rs50 per ride,” she says. This was one of the reasons she chose to switch to a taxi service. “I feel like I’m going to school in my own car,” she says about her taxi wala.

Taxi services are not for everyone, however.

Over the past 10 years, according to the government of Pakistan’s economic survey, local rickshaw and motorbike production has grown from about 130,000 in 2001 to over 1.5 million last year. This growing demand is likely connected to the economic situation as it is to a growing working population. Inflation has increased so much, says Mr Abbas, adding that even taxi rides have become hard to afford.

A glance around the streets can attest to this — half-a-dozen individuals fitting into tiny rickshaws or families of five on motorbikes meant for two. Thus the 10-rupee per kilometre comes out to be quite economical, says Ms Rehana.

Unlikely to give regular rickshaw wala’s a run for their money, Call-a-Rik does provide peace of mind for parents whose children need to use rickshaw services to get around. “We had a father call us on Eid day,” says Mr Abbas, a rik had been transporting his daughter to medical school and back, “he said Eid Mubarak, you are like family to us now. These words were very encouraging for us.”

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