Screeching tires, incessant honking and endless minutes spent haggling your way to find public transport is the hallmark of a day spent in Dhaka’s traffic-ridden streets. With a population of over 16 million people, spending hours in traffic may just be the norm in our country, but finding a ride too, has often been a nightmare of equal measure. As far as our traffic woes are concerned, it wasn’t until 2016 when Dhaka-dwellers found respite in the form of Uber, the ride-hailing global phenomenon that had taken the world by storm, promising to effortlessly connect ride-seekers with drivers in one of the most congested metropolitans in Asia – our very own Dhaka. Globally, there’s nothing quite like Uber as far as numbers are concerned. In 2017, the company was valued at a whopping $69 billion, with Uber customers standing at 40 million per month, with a gross revenue of $20 billion in 2016 alone.
Fast forward to 2018, Uber’s acceleration to success has the ride-sharing app offering everything from a premier car rental service (UberPREMIER) to UberMOTO, a motorcycle ride to help you zoom through traffic, all at the swipe through an app. Operating in 83 countries and over 674 cities worldwide, Uber globally booked $20 billion worth of rides in 2016 alone, so it’s no surprise that they’ve added two new services to their Dhaka repertoire. They recently introduced UberHIRE, a service meant for riders that want extended rental time for multiple destinations, and have ambitious plans to launch UberPOOL, the carpool counterpart for a regular Uber ride. Within six months of its launch in Bangladesh in 2016, Dhaka became one of the fastest growing Uber-cities in the Asia Pacific – but what did it really take to have Uber successfully extend the reach of public transit in the capital?
Ice Business Times sat down with Arpit Mundra to find out how the team helped push progress in the direction of Uber’s lofty goals and what it really took to get the ball rolling in one of the most populous, congested cities in South East Asia. With over three years as part of the Uber family, Mundra recalls that success didn’t come easy – especially when it came to maintaining global standards that a brand like Uber is known for. “In any city in which we operate, our goal is to provide the most reliable, safe and affordable rides as well as provide flexible income opportunities. To make the Uber experience distinctive we invest in our technology as well as in educating riders and drivers who use the Uber app,” he explained, adding that one of their core values is the belief that “respect is a two-way street” where both riders and drivers have equal responsibility and share in fostering a healthy ridesharing community.
To safeguard the interests of all ride sharers, Uber launched the global community guidelines in 2017, and Bangladesh-specific guidelines in August the same year, setting the ground rules explaining the kind of behavior they expect from both riders and drivers, alongside the situations where both parties may lose their access to Uber. The premise is simple: treat people as you would like to be treated yourself. “This is important because when drivers use Uber, they do more than simply drive: they’re sharing their own car, their space, their time and a slice of who they are with passengers. We all know drivers who go above and beyond to create a five-star experience for their riders: from helping an elderly person get into and out of the car to offering water for the trip or making sure that riders get home safely after a night out,” reads the guideline posted on their website last year. As a company that is proud to bring people from different backgrounds together, they believe that anyone can enjoy a five-star ride, as long as they respect each other’s differences and treat the other as they would treat themselves.
While maintaining global standards has always been a prime goal, equal importance is given to the city-specific needs in each market, Mundra said. As the management lead in charge of business operations in Dhaka, Kolkata, and Bhubaneswar, the majority of Mundra’s focus lies on driving growth and service excellence in the region. “While we bring global standards and technologies to each city in which we operate, we also learn about local needs and innovate accordingly – we pride ourselves on being as global as we are local,” he detailed, citing UberMOTO and UberHIRE as two “hyperlocal” services that were launched to cater to the very distinct needs of Dhaka riders.
UberHIRE, in particular, was launched in Dhaka after undertaking an in-depth understanding of the Bangladesh market and rider needs. “We took some important insights into consideration that led to the rollout of this hyperlocal product,” he said. “HIRE was introduced with the aim to solve the need for longer rides, for wedding-hopping and back-to-back meetings.” With the service ready to be availed in the metropolitan, Mundra expounds that the service strives to enhance rider experience – a core goal Uber consistently aims for.
While these services do give riders more travel options, it still raises the question of how well they are able to balance experiences that are both profitable for the driver and financially sound for riders. This is where Uber’s dynamic pricing concept comes to play. Mundra postulates, “Dynamic pricing helps us ensure that riders get a quick pick-up when requested by encouraging more drivers to hit the road and head to areas of high demands for rides.” As a market efficient model employed by others in the service industry such as airlines and hotels, Mundra argues that it really is the best way to ensure that both parties find a fair middle ground as far as prices and profitability are concerned. “It ensures that driver effort is not wasted on idling or roaming around the city looking for potential riders. Incentivizing drivers to meet rider demands ensures that drivers stay on the platform longer and during high demand hours and areas.”
WHILE WE BRING GLOBAL STANDARDS AND TECHNOLOGIES TO EACH CITY IN WHICH WE OPERATE, WE ALSO LEARN ABOUT LOCAL NEEDS AND INNOVATE ACCORDINGLY – WE PRIDE OURSELVES ON BEING AS GLOBAL AS WE ARE LOCAL.
As an app that has had a transformational impact on the transport community, Uber has also had to deal with competition from traditional transport services such as the CNG-run auto rickshaw and taxi cabs as well as the newer crop of local ride-sharing apps such as Pathao. Interestingly, Mundra is a staunch believer in the idea that healthy competition cultivates better businesses, “We have a lot of respect for strong local competitors and we believe that competition makes us better. In any industry competition usually results in better products and in this case a better ridesharing industry that benefits both the rider and the driver partner.”
For Uber, the real challenge, though, lies in competing against personal car ownership. He illustrates this dynamic, “What we are truly competing against is personal vehicle occupancy. Ridesharing accounts for less than 1% of the trips taking place in Dhaka.” By getting more people in fewer cars, Uber has a broader vision of reconstructing the urban mobility landscape and complementing the existing public transit system.
Mundra envisions a Dhaka where mobility focuses on a safe and efficient commute, “To achieve this goal of enhancing and improving the urban mobility landscape – both ridesharing services and traditional public transport systems need to work in tandem. At Uber, we complement (not compete) with traditional public transport. Our products, especially ones like UberMOTO, help to improve last mile connectivity, thereby improving the end-to-end commute for our riders.”
When asked about his thoughts on what would be Uber’s greatest weakness in the current market – hostile regulation, public safety concerns or driver protection, Mundra had a rather optimistic response: “Dhaka has been one of our fastest growing markets in South Asia and the last year in Dhaka has been truly exhilarating. Only in the month of November 2017, an Uber was requested 1.5 million times, where more than 200,000 people took an Uber trip. Every month we see more than 10,000 active driver partners on our platform. We have continuously received an overwhelming response from riders and drivers in Dhaka. Our most recent launch, UberMOTO, has also received a commendable response and we continue to look for new ways to serve the city and create a better Uber experience.”
WE HAVE A LOT OF RESPECT FOR STRONG LOCAL COMPETITORS AND WE BELIEVE THAT COMPETITION MAKES US BETTER. IN ANY INDUSTRY COMPETITION USUALLY RESULTS IN BETTER PRODUCTS AND IN THIS CASE A BETTER RIDESHARING INDUSTRY THAT BENEFITS BOTH THE RIDER AND THE DRIVER PARTNER.
As far as government regulations are concerned, Mundra praised the government and policymakers for their cooperation and support, “We work with both the government and policymakers to help bring innovation to our cities through constructive dialogue and engagement. We admire the government’s intent and vision for redefining the urban mobility landscape in Dhaka and beyond.”
With regard to what he owes his success at Uber to, Mundra attributed it to one of the company’s core values of cultivating a culture of both teamwork and individualism, “At Uber, individual ideas have always been valued. Across our teams, ideas and having the freedom to see them to fruition has always been encouraged.”
“In Bangladesh, we have been exploring ideas of expanding to other cities like Chittagong and Sylhet and introducing UberPOOL in Dhaka to help provide more mobility options while reducing the number of cars on the road,” articulates Mundra. He concludes by expressing Uber’s interest in continuing to bring global technology solutions to Bangladesh to address a local issue like traffic and congestion while reshaping the way we look at commuting in today’s age.