ISLAMABAD: United States (US)-based ride-hailing service Uber Technologies Inc launched in Lahore on Thursday, stepping into a challenging market where credit cards are rare and security is a concern.
Uber's launch comes shortly after rival service Easy Taxi, backed by German firm Rocket Internet, pulled out of Pakistan amid a broad exit from Asia, where competition from local ride-hailing start-ups including Singapore-based Grab Taxi and China's Didi Kuaidi is strong.
Uber's launch is part of a $250 million drive into central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, Shaden Abdellatif, Uber's head of communications for the region, told Reuters.
It launched its low-cost uberGo service across Lahore at Rs13.7 per kilometre, a price Abdellatif said was low enough to attract as many customers as possible. The cost is added to a base fare of Rs100.
In a departure from its usual business model, Uber customers will be allowed to pay in cash, rather than credit cards.
"The response to our arrival has been fantastic ─ both from riders and drivers," Abdellatif said. In Pakistan, Uber must contend with one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in Asia.
The safety of both passengers and drivers will also be a major challenge where high crime rates and an intractable militant insurgency are prevalent.
In India, the government temporarily banned Uber after an Uber driver was accused of rape.
Abdellatif said all Uber drivers would go through rigorous screening, as well as undergo mandatory training aimed at raising awareness about sexual harassment.
"We are also engaging the local law enforcement on ways we can develop the incident response process," she added.
Uber, currently valued at over $50bn, has expanded more quickly globally than any company in history and is operating in 300 cities in over 60 countries.