I remember the first time I heard of Uber was when I had to get to the Maidenhead (England) Station in June this summer. I remember being shocked first and then thrilled by the idea of having a taxi service on your doorstep by simply installing an app on our mobile devices.
When I came back, I also remember gushing over the brilliant taxi service back in England and how the transport system in Pakistan is absolutely pathetic and unsafe for girls. And as if, somehow, our sacred land heard me talk bad about it, it decided to launch Uber in Pakistan in exactly a month after my return on 28th August, 2016. I was ecstatic by the news and instantly tagged my friends living abroad how they weren’t the only ones with such a service anymore. Having experienced it first hand, and that too, with a remarkable outcome, I wanted to ride with Uber as soon as it arrived.
And so I did. But let me tell you, it was not as I expected. I know I shouldn’t have been thinking about the whole ‘England’ experience but this one was a complete disaster. First, my car was late. The driver failed to understand the correct address when I provided all the details clearly and that too, twice. And these drivers are supposed to have GPRS system installed or phones with map services up to date. When the car did arrive and I sat inside, the disappointment from earlier evaporated because it didn’t feel so bad. Until the driver shamelessly kept looking through the rear-view mirror and I began to feel uncomfortable. Mind you, I was dressed modestly but then again, have men in Pakistan ever cared about the clothing? Because all you have to do is be a girl and it’ll do the job.
But with the introduction of Uber, along with Careem (which was introduced before Uber), it has rather become more than just ‘checking out’ your female commuter. The basic procedure to order a taxi for yourself, requires us to give our number away. And for female commuters in Pakistan, that has apparently become the issue to talk about. Many women and girls have complained about receiving inappropriate and unnecessary texts from the drivers. I recently came across a post on Facebook where the girl even posted screen-shots, which clearly showed how angry the driver got once she asked she would expose him, which resulted in the driver threatening her.
Now, for a girl in Pakistan, who is mostly dependent on her brother or father for transportation, such a threat becomes rather unavoidable. Here, we cannot say we have the best public transport system and there are people who do not own their private vehicles and are forced to use public transport, it is alright for men but what about those woman who cannot afford to buy their own car and have to travel using Uber, Careem, a rickshaw or a bus. We cannot ask them to quit their jobs and sit at home and waste their lives just because people like these Uber drivers threaten and scare us. This girl who was threatened probably never went out on her own again and even if she did, she would fear the driver lurking around ready to make his move.
There have also been other complaints about Uber drivers and how ill-mannered and misbehaved they are. There seem to be two behavioural extremes when it comes to carrying female passengers. I read about incidents and heard about them from friends and relatives. They can be pretty aggressive with their tone if you are late by a few minutes and God forbid if you decide to change your route by a few turns. I hate to compare but when I was using Uber in England and had to change my route suddenly, the driver did not complain once and went on in the new direction I gave him. And the best part, he did not even charge me extra which is why I was the one to give him a few extra pounds for his kind behaviour. But here, they think of girls as feeble and timid beings who will succumb to pressure and that shouldn’t be the case.
Instead of taking actions against these drivers, what we should do is educate these people the right ways of behaving with a commuter, especially with a woman. And I am only saying this because many women have come forward with these complaints and not a single male commuter has had to face such issues with the Uber services. Why? Because we live in a society where things comes easy if you’re a male (mostly if not all) but major struggles are reserved for females especially when it comes to using public transport or anything to with the ‘public’ for that matter.
These services may have been copied for better purposes but they lack finesse and morality. If that’s the case, maybe services like Uber should steer clear of Pakistan.
By: Neha Batool