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Uber Transport Safety Alliance, Pandemic as a Setting

1/ On May 30th, the ride-hailing giant Uber announced a Transport Safety Alliance in Bangladesh in partnership with three companies: DBL Pharma, Zantrik, Dettol (Reckitt Benckiser) and Fresh Tissue with an ambition to help contain the spread of coronavirus and improve the safety measures for Uber users. 

2/ The alliance, broadly, is a collaboration among these four companies to ensure proper safety measures for Uber passengers in Bangladesh. Under the collaboration, DBL Pharma, Reckitt Benckiser and Fresh Tissue will provide their “key safety supplies such as masks, soaps, tissues, and sanitizers” to Zantrik distribution points across Dhaka for Uber drivers to pick them up.  

3/ The alliance, which is first of its kind as Bangladesh slowly opens up its economy after more than two months of lockdown, offers a glimpse into the post-pandemic world of business.  

4/ Transportation is one of the hardest hit industries. Since the pandemic hit in January 2020, ride-hailing companies have experienced a drastic fall in business across markets. As the country reopens and public life slowly gets back to some sort of normalcy, ride-hailing, both car and bike, is likely to get preference of customers over regular public bus transport. However, safety concerns among customers is likely to slow the overall recovery. 

5/ Ride-hailing remains a competitive market in Dhaka. There are 4 serious players and then there are other transportation service providers such as Shuttle, etc. Uber’s attempt at improving safety standards and subsequent PR coverage for the effort is likely to put it in a more advantageous position in the market. However, similar initiatives from other ride-hailing players are very much expected. 

6/ Safety is going to become an important feature for ride-hailing services. However, whether Uber’s model of transport safety alliance is going to work or not remains to be seen. The alliance depends on multiple stakeholders, that is four partners of the alliance, to work. There are both advantages and disadvantages in working with partners to ensure user safety. Because while a partnership offers flexibility, it also reduces Uber’s control over the overall program. The success of the program will largely depend on the incentive for each partner, which is why it makes me skeptical about the program because some of the partners of the program said they are participating in the program to help ensure health safety of people. 

Pandemic as setting 

1/ Over the past months, coronavirus pandemic has been the lead story of every possible news and conversation. The pandemic has been both the story and the news. We were concerned about safety. We sheltered in. We were fearful. This, however, is changing. As countries reopen and we try to get back to some sort of normalcy, the pandemic is quickly becoming the setting that drives the story from the background. This means although you will not be talking directly about the pandemic, everything you do and every decision you make will be dictated by the pandemic and its impact. 

2/ Uber Transport Safety Alliance is the first example of something close to pandemic quickly becoming the setting. You are not talking about the pandemic but your decisions are influenced by pandemic. 

3/ As we move forward, increasingly this is going to be the case. Increasingly, pandemic is going to be the setting where we operate. If you look at the world around us, you will see this scenario is playing out across verticals and industries. Take, for instance, the 60% public transport fare hike announced today. Regardless of the merit of the hike, this is a decision triggered by the pandemic and more decisions will follow in the coming months and years. 

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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