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Uber Celebrates One Year In Dhaka, Uber’s PR Challenges Follow It Everywhere, And Uber’s Expansion Plans

Uber, the embattled global ride-hailing giant, celebrated its one year in Dhaka yesterday.

From UNB:

“Briefing to reporters at a city hotel, Pradeep Parameswaran, head of central operation at Uber India and South Asia, said, “Dhaka presented us the challenge of transforming the transportation landscape and creating alternatives to a city burdened with a growing number of cars on its roads.”

“We’d like to thank the government of Bangladesh, our business partners, riders and driver partners for their continued support and love in making this vision a reality in Dhaka,” he said.

Highlighting of the first 365 days of Uber launching in Dhaka, he said on an average, an Uber can pick up a rider in less than 7 minutes after confirming a request.

An Uber was requested 1.5 million times in the month of November, while more than two lakh people took an Uber trip in the same period.”

Uber launched in Dhaka on 22nd November 2016 at 2:00 pm with Shakib Al Hasan taking the first ride. It received a huge response from the users before getting banned by BRTA after a short while of its launch in Dhaka. However, the ride-hailing leader, like in many other markets, managed to overcome those early regulatory challenges and build a quite strong operation in Dhaka.

Here are some publicly available numbers about its operations in Dhaka:

  • Dhaka is one of the fast-growing markets for Uber in the Asia-Pacific region
  • Over 200,000 people took over 1.5 million Uber trips just in November.
  • Some 100 driver partners join uber network per day
  • Some 9,500 drivers made trips around the city in November
  • Average ETAs have been as low as 8 mins for almost 75% of the trips
  • In response to a question about its profitability, its officials declined to share specific information rather said it is still in investment phase and is not in hurry to turn a profit

Uber Moto

Uber launched Uber Moto, its bike-sharing service, in Dhaka in November, a likely move given the growing popularity of bike-hailing services in Dhaka. The company did not say anything particular about the Uber Moto operations in Dhaka in Yesterday's press briefing.

However, it can safely be predicted that it will put further effort in Moto in the coming days. In fact, this reality is apparent in its statement about the challenges it faces in Dhaka. From Dhaka Tribune:

“Dhaka has only 7% of road infrastructure – while a city should at least have 20%. Besides, parking takes up close to 20% of the urban land. So, one car can be used by more people and not just by two”.

“Dhaka presented us with a challenge of transforming the transportation landscape and creating alternatives to a city burdened with a growing population of cars on its roads,” Pradeep Parameswaran, head of Central Operation at Uber India and South Asia on the challenges of Uber business in Dhaka during the press meet.

From our report on Uber Moto:

“Coming from Uber, this is an expected move for several reasons. One is, of course, local upstart Pathao which launched bike-sharing in 2016 and has gained significant traction over the past one year. Pathao has also launched Pathao Cars recently. Until now, Uber could not compete with Pathao purely because of the mode and it was expected that, like many other similar markets, Uber would launch Uber Moto in Dhaka as well.

The other reason is, of course, the traffic congestion in Dhaka. The situation is showing little sign of improvement. According to a World Bank report, the average traffic speed in the city has come down to 7km per hour which is almost close to walking speed. Given the situation, bike-sharing makes much more sense than cars.

In fact, to our observation Uber and similar car-hailing services have contributed to the growth of traffic congestion in the city encouraging people to buy cars and give them to Uber for earning money. Moreover, unlike many cities where drivers own the cars, owners seldom drive in Dhaka and turning it into a side hustle”

Uber’s PR Challenges Follow It Everywhere

Uber has been going through a rough patch for a while now. Scandals after scandals have taken a toll on its growth and its reputation globally. As Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wrote in an internal memo, “there is a high cost to a bad reputation". More so when you are running a global business like uber where your action in one part of the world essentially affects the outcome in the other parts, he added.

This reality was apparent in various reports that came out after its first-anniversary press briefing in Dhaka. From the Independent:

“Uber, the world’s largest on-demand ride-sharing company, celebrated its first anniversary in Dhaka yesterday through a press conference where the company officials took no question from the journalists.

In a press conference, the company, which is yet to obtain official permission from the government to run its services in Bangladesh, highlighted its achievements in the country for the first year. Most of the journalists who were present in the press conference wanted to know about various issues related to its service in the city. But, Uber officials refused to answer and advised them to contact its PRO office in Dhaka.”

A few lines down the newspaper brings up Uber's recent scandal news:

“Uber had suffered a massive data breach last year that exposed the personal data of 57 million of its customers and drivers.”

Uber’s new CEO has been working hard to rebuild the confidence in the ride-hailing giant since he joined the company a few months ago. However, it appears he couldn't apologize enough for the endless mess that its co-founder Travis Kalanick left behind.

Uber expansion plans: Sylhet, Chittagong, and UberPool

During the press meet, Uber officials said the company plans to expand to Chittagong and Sylhet in the near future and also introduce other uber features including UberPool that matches a user with riders heading in the same direction, in Bangladesh.

This is an expected move given that competition is growing rapidly in the ride-hailing space and local startup Pathao has already expanded to Chittagong.

Cover photo: Uber lunch photo, Uber on Facebook

Mohammad Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based entrepreneur and writer. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure. His writings have been published in almost all major national dailies in Bangladesh including DT, FE, etc. Prior to FS, he worked for a local conglomerate where he helped start a social enterprise. Ruhul is a 2022 winner of Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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