If you don’t own a car or a motorcycle in a city as big as Karachi, commuting expenses may eat up a major portion of your monthly budget.
Standardised rates for taxi and auto-rickshaw fares are a thing of the past and we often end up paying inflated fares even for nearby destinations, on the whim of the driver.
The port city’s first mass transit system, Greenline BRT, will take at least a year before it is fully operational and when that does happen it will move along a single route. This may prove inadequate for a growing metropolis.
So what alternatives are we left with?
Depending on which consumer segment one belongs to, ‘Bykea’ may prove to be one of these alternatives.
As the name implies, Bykea is a ride hailing service that exclusively focuses on motorcycles. The startup currently offers users in Karachi a convenient pick and drop service similar to on demand ride hailing services like Uber and Careem.
In addition to catering exclusively to those who prefer to commute on a motorcycle, the service takes advantage of lower fuel consumption and maintenance costs, offering much cheaper rates than conventional taxis or rickshaws.
The company also sees itself growing in the parcel delivery space and offers users an affordable service in this space as well.
How it works
The Bykea app is pretty straightforward and has an uncanny resemblance to the popular Careem app. Once launched, you are presented with two options: whether to use Bykea for parcel delivery or for a ride.
Selecting either of the options and tapping the “Chalo” (Let’s go) button connects you to a nearby rider, who picks you up from your desired location.
The app lacks features such as fare estimate, booking the ride for later, balance accumulated and destination selection. The user experience is also plagued by some bugs which will be explored later on in this review.
On a pleasant Monday morning, I used Bykea to commute to work, even though I own a motorcycle, to see how the service really fared.
The rider who came to pick me up was a courteous young man and had a 70cc motorcycle which wasn’t too old and appeared to be in decent condition. It was comfortable.
The biker was a bit reckless as he drove through traffic and I had to assure him that I wouldn’t mind paying a few rupees extra for a longer commute time. He acknowledged and slowed down considerably and dropped me off at my office.
I was charged a total fare of Rs134 for the 17 kilometre ride, spanning over 36 minutes.
To give you an idea of the distance, I reside in Gulistan-e-Johar and my office is opposite the Governor House. That makes the total fare extremely affordable when compared to a rickshaw which may charge any amount between Rs300 to Rs400.
The rider terminated the ride upon reaching the destination, and I noticed that he took the liberty to give himself a 5-star rating. It was only a bit later that I found out he had merely recommended himself for a 5-star rating when the app asked for my confirmation for the rating. I had the option to reduce the rating.
I tried Bykea three more times over the next few days and found the commute to be both pleasant and affordable. In each instance, the riders behaved nicely and also strictly abided by all traffic rules.
The big question: is it safe?
In all four rides, the motorcycles had no rear view mirrors. That means the rider would rotate back his head every time he wanted to change a lane or overtake other vehicles.
Needless to say, this is a dangerous practice.
In Pakistan, the majority of bikers find it embarrassing to have rear view mirrors installed. Can there be any other reason for not having them?
I have been riding a motorcycle for years and have always had rear view mirrors installed on my bike. I can say with full confidence that having both rear view mirrors (and using them) can reduce your chance of an accident by a significant margin.
In two of the rides that I took, the motorcycles were really worn out and poorly maintained. I asked one of the riders about whether Bykea carries out a safety inspection before registering the motorcycle and was told that they did.
It was hard to believe as I could not imagine how these two bikes could have passed such an inspection. One even had damaged passenger footrests, making it impossible for me to rest my feet on them.
Additionally, none of the motorcycles had any helmet for the pillion passenger, even though the Bykea website claims that the pillion rider will be provided a helmet.
I had to bring my own helmet during each ride.
Quite surprisingly, one of the riders who came to pick me up, told me during the course of the commute that he had a learner’s driving licence and not a permanent one.
While he did drop me off safely, such recklessness is not acceptable from a company which wants to establish itself as a provider of safe transport services. Surprisingly, this is also a claim made on their website: that they don’t accept riders without licences or those with a learner’s licence.
While using the app, I sometimes faced sporadic glitches. One morning when I opened the app to get myself another ride, it showed four riders around the Malir Cantonment area with their markers not moving at all. The riders didn’t call back to confirm the pick-up request.
On the fifth try, the rider’s marker was flying from Gulshan-e-Iqbal to Malir Cantonment and back continuously, as if the app was unable to determine the rider’s exact location.
There are no waiting charges or cancellation charges, so misuse of the service by non-serious customers is common which results in a waste of time and resources for the rider.
The company should work on rectifying this problem.
Another missing feature is that the rider does not set the drop-off location at the start of the ride; neither does the app ask the customer for a drop-off location.
When they close the ride upon reaching the destination, the drop-off location is then fetched by the GPS.
In case of an accident
During casual conversations with the riders, I was told that the company has assured them up to Rs 25,000 in medical assistance in case of an accident.
I was also told that the company provides ‘mobile phone snatching coverage’ of up to Rs8,000 and discourages riders from keeping very expensive smartphones.
This is really positive because bikes are more prone to accidents than cars. I was also told that in case my mobile phone is snatched during my ride, the company would also provide me the same coverage as the rider.
I asked him about the process of filing the claim, to which I was told that he was unaware of any such process as he hadn’t been through any unfortunate incident.
One thing is certain, Bykea is great value for money.
If you are looking for a cheap and fast ride to your destination, Bykea is worth a try. Shortcomings are a part and parcel of any startup, but what matters is their determination and will to resolve issues in a timely fashion.
The company should implement strict standards on the condition of its motorcycles and ensure that they are equipped with necessary safety features including rear view mirrors, metallic side-bar to prevent the bike from falling onto the rider in case of a slip, a helmet for the pillion rider and a frame for exhaust pipes to prevent accidental burns.
I reached out to the company to get their point of view on all these points, but I did not receive a response despite multiple requests.
Try it for yourself! And if you’re undecided, watch this awesome Girls at Dhabas video and review
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Originally published at Dawn.com on February 15th, 2017