A start-up in Pakistan is trying to make it easier to get a lift.
In Pakistan, a compact three-wheeled rickshaw is often the fastest and cheapest way to travel. Now Lahore, the country’s second-largest city, has a ride-hailing app to make booking one just as efficient.
Last week, the Pakistani startup Travly launched on-demand rickshaw service in several residential areas of Lahore. Users can book a ride through the Android app, Viber, or WhatsApp; on the Travly website; or by phone or SMS. For now, Travly is simply connecting drivers and riders—users pay in cash when the rickshaw arrives—but a direct digital payment feature is forthcoming.
While the app is being called an “Uber for tuk-tuks,” Travly co-founder Faizan Khan pictures Travly as a “one-stop shop” for ground transportation—and indeed, that’s where the company got its start. Shortly after launching in 2013, Travly worked with the regional government to map all the routes and stops in Lahore’s new bus rapid transit system—a first for Pakistan, where commuting can mean literally sitting on top of other riders in sweaty, unreliable buses and vans. Travly allows users to plot their journeys on a map and view real-time arrival data so they never miss their ride. It’s a 21st-century interface befitting the city’s new fleet of speedy, air-conditioned buses.
When you can’t take a bus to get where you need to go, a rickshaw is the next best option. In Lahore, rickshaws run for about 200 rupees, compared to 500 rupees for taxis. “That is why rickshaws are the go-to transport for the people of Lahore and all of Pakistan, except Islamabad, where there are only taxis,” Khan said in an email to CityLab.
But the city of Lahore caps rickshaw registrations at 100,000, and the vehicles are restricted from many residential areas. “Almost all of the drivers complained that each district should provide them their local rickshaw stands where they can park their rickshaw and wait for the rides, instead of being told to hide behind market areas or outside of residential societies,” Khan says. He estimates that a typical driver wastes half his day just waiting for fares to come to him. Travly cuts out the idle time, and in the future, Khan hopes to streamline the process even further with special vehicle tags that would allow rickshaws to pass through security in residential areas.
Travly isn’t the first to apply the ride-hailing model to three-wheelers. In April, Uber launched its own cash-only rickshaw service in India. But Travly’s model is distinctive for emphasizing “social impact.” A rickshaw driver in Pakistan typically makes 15,000 to 20,000 rupees a month, or about $150 to $200 USD. Travly currently employs about 100 rickshaw drivers, and Khan says the company plans to provide them with health insurance, life insurance, educational opportunities, and even bank accounts.
Most of Travly’s users are young professionals and women. But the company’s potential consumer base is bound to grow with Pakistan’s mobile broadband network; the number of 3G/4G subscribers nationwide just crossed the 18 million mark. In the meantime, Travly is expanding into cargo services for businesses—with larger vehicles to accommodate pick-up and delivery—and on-demand taxi hailing for higher-income customers. Just don’t call it the Uber of anything.