Vehicles of bus ride-sharing apps can now be seen on the city’s roads as the alternative (right) is quite unpalatable for commuters.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Vehicles of bus ride-sharing apps can now be seen on the city’s roads as the alternative (right) is quite unpalatable for commuters.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: As the federal and provincial governments have failed to complete their respective bus rapid transit system (BRTS) schemes, local and international players are poised to capitalise on a huge business opportunity in Karachi’s transport sector as two ride-sharing services have launched their van and bus service while another is set to enter the market.

To fill the void, two private operators — Airlift and SWVL — have already registered hundreds of vans and Coasters for their respective ride-sharing bus service apps.

“It’s a city of 22 million people so the transport needs of Karachi are massive,” said Shahzeb Memon of SWVL — an Egypt-based ride-hailing business that recently launched its services in Karachi.

“Currently we have introduced 13- and 22-seater vans and Coasters but it doesn’t end here. The [number of] buses and vehicles would grow gradually as well as their capacity. We have close to 100 routes in Karachi alone,” he said.

Bus ride-sharing services Airlift and SWVL have launched their operations in the metropolis

Private operators say the city offers immense business opportunities when it comes to transport service. This pushed their organisations to pursue operations in Karachi where the public sector transport system has almost collapsed and new projects are still in the pipeline.

Mr Memon said that the city offered such a big transport market that one could not handle it alone.

Like SWVL, Airlift has also started its operation across the city and scores of vehicles painted with the company’s logo are found on the roads of Karachi in almost all districts.

The new ride-sharing services have started operations in Karachi and Lahore with private bus operators and industry sources say the two services are now offering more than 800 such vans and Coasters to Karachiites and their number is expected to increase within the next few months.

“Another private company which is already in the ride-hailing cab business is set to add value to its operation and going to introduce a bus service like Airlift and SWVL,” said an industry source. “The reason behind such a plan is very simple. This city is huge with poor infrastructure and declining public service facilities from the government. So any business which offers services to the people at affordable prices and makes their life easier will definitely grow.”

The situation highlighted by industry insiders about the city’s transport service was described years ago by renowned city planner Arif Hasan with Mansoor Raza and the Urban Resource Centre in their 2015 report.

Titled Karachi: the transport crisis, the report argued that the public transport sector of the country’s largest city was on the verge of collapse due to a history of failure, negligence, inefficiency and lack of follow-through in both government and public-private partnership projects.

The 32-page report, which was released in January 2015, painted a bleak picture of the state of transport affairs in Karachi. It indicated that transporters were crippled by high fuel costs and limited government support, while the public was caught between rising prices and an inadequate number of alternative options.

The situation has not changed much in the public transport sector since the report was published.

Promises, promises

However, Sindh Transport Minister Syed Awais Qadir Shah promises that the provincial government projects were expected to mature soon and the authorities also welcomed the private sector to contribute their share for quality transport service in the city.

“It is our resolve to complete them [public transport projects] within the stipulated time,” he said. “At the same time, the Sindh government is very much encouraging the private sector and we will do everything to facilitate their business. Apart from their business interests, it’s also the government’s positive response which attracts major companies for operation in any sector,” he said.

Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2019