Declaring Uber and Careem illegal might be one of the most unintelligent decisions taken by Punjab Government in the recent memory, and that is saying a lot. Now before anyone plays the choir about the need of regulation and taxation, I am not saying that these services should not be regulated, but the way Government has handled the issue shows the astonishing incompetence and nearsightedness of the officials handling this issue. Let me first explain the issue at hand and then you can decide whether this was a good or a bad decision by the government.
Allegations against Uber and Careem
I am not talking about the Sindh government here because their main issue with the services seems to be only the lack of fitness certificates (which in itself is quite ridiculous), but Punjab Government went a few steps ahead of Sindh and has deemed both services illegal due to these reasons:
- Offering transport services without registering the private cars with any regulatory body
- Drivers are not cleared by security authorities
- No fitness certificates
- Vehicles registered in private capacity but working as commercial
First of all, before discussing this issue any further, you should know that Careem is operating in Pakistan since October 2015, and Uber started its services in October 2016. It is very hard for me to believe that government institutions are so slow that it took them nearly two years to notice that some transport company is working without registration with the regulatory body. Punjab information technology board (PITB) was also very appreciative of Uber from the start and they signed an MOU with Uber to promote the use of technology across Lahore.
Can any sane person believe that a government institution has been working with an illegal corporation this whole time? If it is true then it speaks volumes about the incompetence of government institutions.
Security concerns, seriously?
Punjab government was quick to point out that these services pose a security threat for customers using these services. Uber and Careem both require a certificate of clearance from a Police Officer and vigorous training before they allow someone to drive around by using their apps. Both services also provide real-time tracking for customer’s family and friends to assist them in making sure their loved ones are indeed safe. I am not even going to bother asking if any public transport service, which has gone through “security clearance” by the government, offers these kinds of protective measures. I, along with everyone I know, will pick Uber and Careem over any other form of public and private transport when it comes to security issues.
Fitness certificate? Hmm…
First of all, if I am not wrong, every single vehicle which aims to run on a Pakistani road has to have a fitness certificate. So it seems like a very arbitrary reason to declare these services illegal. Also, I think I am not the only one who has seen public transport vehicles bathing people all around in all kinds of smoke during my brief stints on the road.
There have been multiple incidents where an investigation against a bus or a van crash has shown a lack of fitness certification to be the real culprit. Now it seems ironic that government is trying to reprimand Uber and Careem over fitness certificate issues when both companies require a relatively newer model of car which is in good condition to even sign up for the service (Uber requires a model of 2001 or newer and Careem requires a model newer than 2008). Should the government be really criticizing and banning services which are miles ahead of what government offerings are capable of?
Always behind the curve
A big charge against both these services seems to be that they are using privately registered vehicles for commercial uses. This objection is actually not a new one against such services. Shared economy is not a new concept, it has become a big part of entrepreneurial businesses in many parts of the world. In such countries, there are special laws and regulations in place to make sure that these services can keep working withing the boundaries set by their governments. A country like Pakistan, where unemployment and poverty is a big issue, shared economy is probably the best bet for many individuals. But it seems like Punjab Government was unaware of this development all around the world and are still referencing laws about such practices dating back to 1965.
Right intentions, very wrong methods
I am not saying that government should not have taken steps to include these services in the tax net or to ensure proper certification, but is this the right method? Will it not send a message of hostility to other such services looking to expand their business to Pakistan? It’s 2017 and we still do not have access to a proper online payment service due to rigid policies of current and previous administrations. These poorly thought out actions might even discourage a few services like Uber and Careem which have dared to step a foot in this country.
There is a ray of hope for all of us yet as Umar Saif has said while talking to Dawn that a policy is being formed to tackle the business model issue with Uber and Careem. He also mentioned that the leaked documents declaring both these services illegal were internal memos and government is taking a balanced approach while deciding future of these companies. I can only hope that this issue is sorted out amicably and we can move on to playing catch up with other developing countries in the region.
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