With technological innovations and precautionary measures to contain the novel coronavirus, Uber is confident about providing safe travel to passengers as the top global ridesharing platform looks to resume operations in Bangladesh.
Safety is the top priority of the company, said Ratul Ghosh, head of East India and Bangladesh at Uber, adding: "We can't wait to go live again in Bangladesh. It's a very exciting market for us."
Bangladesh has recently reopened its economy on a limited scale allowing transport services such as buses, minibuses, trains and domestic airlines to resume operations after a lull of two months.
However, all ridesharing services have been asked to stay off the roads until further notice.
"It is not clear why we cannot resume services when the buses, trains, CNG-run vehicles and minibuses are allowed to ply the roads," Ghosh told The Daily Star in an interview over the phone last week from Kolkata.
The ridesharing industry should seek a dialogue with the government.
"If we can understand the problem, we can propose a solution, which we have done in the rest of the world."
Uber can track the whole journey and is capable of delivering safer transit than other modes of transport.
"When we resume in Bangladesh, we will come up with our own safety standards and operating procedures," he said, adding that the company's tech and safety teams have been working to build a new product experience that will help protect users.
Before a driver can go online, they will be asked to confirm through its new 'Go Online Checklist' that they've taken certain safety measures and are wearing masks.
And it will be verified by asking to take a selfie and the passengers would be notified about the verification.
A similar checklist will also be introduced for riders, and before every trip, riders must confirm that they have taken precautions like wearing a face cover and washing or sanitising hands.
For Bangladesh, Uber has spearheaded the formation of a transport safety alliance, in partnership with DBL Pharma, Zantrik, Dettol (Reckitt Benckiser) and Fresh Tissue to raise safety awareness amongst consumers and equip drivers with health and safety supplies to ensure safer rides.
Uber and its allies will distribute key safety supplies such as masks, soaps, tissues and hand sanitisers to its drivers.
"I just feel, as a common person, from my knowledge, that these kinds of measures are not possible to take in many other modes of mass transports."
On whether resuming the operations of motorbike services would pose any health risk, he said, according to information from the drivers and riders around the world, it is safer than other means of transports.
"There are different opinions and some people feel that when you are in the open air you are actually safer."
He said helmets will be disinfected between trips and the platform encourages passengers to bring their own helmets.
"With the right safety precautions, which a large player like Uber can bring in, bikes can be safer."
For a digital platform like Uber that assesses every trip using technology, there is a strong reason to believe that it will be able to deliver on its promise, the official said.
The San Francisco-based multinational ride-hailing company that came into being in 2010 debuted in Bangladesh in 2016 by providing services in Dhaka city initially.
Uber extended its operations to resort town Cox's Bazar in January this year, making it the fourth Bangladeshi city after Dhaka, Chattogram and Sylhet.
In 2019, riders from 76 countries had used Uber while visiting Bangladesh.
About Bangladesh, he said it is one of their 'star markets', where they are witnessing considerable growth and investing continuously, Ghosh said, adding that the country's motorbike market is one of the largest in the world and so the entire Uber world sees this market with respect.
He said they are in talks with the government to forge partnerships in several areas as Bangladesh is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.
About Uber's plans for expansion in Bangladesh, he said they continuously evaluate cities before taking decisions in this regard. But the overall scenario has made them cautious for now.
"We have to balance two things: one is the present reality of the contagious disease and the other is the economic reality. So, the market will change a lot. Once the crisis is over, we will be back with a very aggressive plan for the market."
Ghosh said he has a strong connection with Bangladesh as the first assignment of his career was to establish the Tata Tetley business in the country in 2002.
"I remember being very excited and amazed by the immense potential of the market and its hardworking people."
Asked about the privileges that drivers get from Uber, he said the company is providing insurance coverage in case of an accident while on the trip using the Uber app.
Uber in its current insurance coverage for drivers and riders in Bangladesh commits Tk 2 lakh in the event of accidental death, up to Tk 2 lakh for permanent disability, and up to Tk 1 lakh in the event of hospitalisation.
In response to drivers' criticism about a staggering 25 per cent commission that they have to share with Uber, he said commission or service fee in Bangladesh is in line with their global business practices.
"Bulk of the service fee we collect is reinvested back in the market in the form of incentives for drivers and riders. It also enables us to keep our app and services live, continue to invest in marketing and user growth and bring in new technology."