Riders working for a food delivery app wait for orders and (right) a motorcyclist representing a bike taxi app on the road.—White Star
Riders working for a food delivery app wait for orders and (right) a motorcyclist representing a bike taxi app on the road.—White Star

KARACHI: An understatement: the pandemic has turned things topsy-turvy for mankind. Life, at least in the last one hundred years, has never been so confined and contained. People in most parts of the world are afraid of stepping out of their houses. They’re frightened of the virus which has so far taken over two million lives. The situation has affected, pretty badly, the economic well-being of countless households, especially the ones belonging to the salaried class.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. It’s not that online services hadn’t taken off before Covid-19 showed its ugly fangs. But ever since movement became restricted, the reliance on services rendered through cyberspace has increased manifold. Now the word ‘webinar’ has entered all dictionaries and communication software programmes such as Zoom and Google Meet have become just as essential for bouncing off ideas and even general interaction as going to offices.

Similarly, largely due to the fact that office-going and restaurant-visiting have become minimal, online services such as food delivery and transportation have come to the rescue of many — both in terms of providing jobs for those who deliver or transport passengers from one place to another and for those who wish to travel in a safe environment or order food. But has it been a really productive exercise, particularly for men and women working in this industry?

Kashif works for a food delivery service company, arguably the largest in the city. He says, “They have done a great favour to us in lockdown — they did not fire anyone. I earn seven to eight thousand rupees a month. Some people tip us, some don’t. So I get four to five hundred rupees extra. The pandemic hasn’t had a bad effect on me.”

Many individuals are supplementing their income by working for delivery/transport apps

This feeling is shared by Hasnain who drives an online cab, again, arguably the largest such facility functioning in Karachi. “When lockdown was imposed for the first time [during the first wave of coronavirus], everything was shut. This time around, things haven’t changed. It’s like pre-pandemic days. The number of rides that we get is similar to the one that we used to have when the disease hadn’t come to haunt us.”

Like Kashif, Hasnain claims that there haven’t been any job cuts or layoffs in his company. However, he adds, “When the first wave came, those who had bought vehicles for online use had to sell them off; some had to resell them to the banks which had given them loans for the vehicles. Now, the number of cars has decreased a bit, but the work hasn’t suffered.”

Then there is that segment of society which can’t afford to travel by cars. They opt for motorcycles. The motorcycle service has also come in handy. Saeed is an employee of a hire and parcel delivery enterprise. He says, “I do my day job and in the evening, around 4pm, I kick-start my bike to take passengers. I ride until 9pm. I get Rs700 on a daily basis out of which Rs200 are spent on petrol, the rest I manage to save. This part-time work has enabled me to cope with the financial challenges in these tough times.”

This means, all is not doom and gloom. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2021

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