Since the emergence of ride-sharing services in Bangladesh back in 2016, the industry has experienced surging growth over the last four years with an estimated domestic market value of around $1 billion by 2025, an estimate made before Covid-19. Subsequently, this growing industry, along with other forms of businesses, took a major hit with the unprecedented arrival of the global pandemic which struck Bangladesh earlier this year in March. Since then, these services have had to continuously innovate and adjust to keep up with the changing needs of the market and thereby adjust to the 'new normal'.
The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) had issued a ban on public transports including ride-sharing services starting from March 26th, 2020. Consequently, the Directorate General of Health Service (DGHS) provided a list of 11 directives for ride-sharing services to follow in the event of their resumed operations. Three months after the ban, the government allowed these services to run again with the initial allowance of four-wheelers alone with subsequent eased restrictions on other forms as well. However changed public perceptions, increased health consciousness and new trends of remote work and online education decreased ride-sharing demands to a significant extent, especially during the four or five months following March.
To regain the trust of ride-sharing users, there has been a range of precautionary measures at play. One such proactive move was made by the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) which mandated Enlistment Certificates for all drivers of ride-sharing services to ensure that safety protocols are met. Procurement of the certificate requires drivers to have valid NID and driver's license documents and thus ensures the scope of tracking performance. This further sparked innovative regulatory changes to be implemented like Pathao's move whereby its riders are now required to take a selfie while wearing a mask to make sure safety protocols are met. The selfie acts as a form of daily log saved in the company's database, without which the riders aren't allowed to go online and thereby give rides to its users.
With the emergence of the new normal, idea-sharing has become the norm, whereby companies are collaboratively combatting the negative effects the pandemic has had on their businesses. This was further confirmed through a conversation with Ahmed Fahad, the Vice President of Pathao, where he mentioned, "Pathao has been in constant touch with similar businesses like Uber and Shohoz and we have been discussing ways to deal with the changing demands of our users." Consequently, these companies have been strictly making sure safety practices are met by training their drivers to follow proper World Health Organization safety guidelines using masks, hair covers, gloves, disinfectants and hand sanitizers. Passengers aren't allowed to sit in the front seat and drivers are encouraged to keep windows down unless the passenger requests air conditioning. Drivers are handpicked and before each ride are asked to sanitize their respective cars to ensure safety.
Recognizing ride-sharing services as a growing necessity to Bangladeshi commuters in terms of reaching the destination at low cost and shorter time, Shohoz has collaborated with the E-commerce Association of Bangladesh (eCAB) to develop and implement safety protocols based on technical guidance issued by the Directorate General of Health (DGHS) to ensure the safest mode of transportation for users and riders alike. Furthermore, Uber Bangladesh has formulated a Transport Safety Alliance (TSA) with DBL Pharma, Zantrik, Dettol (Reckitt Benckiser) and Fresh Tissue which looks to make users more aware of safety protocols while equipping its drivers with necessary supplies from Zantrik-provided distribution points.
In the long run, Covid-19 is expected to affect businesses of all forms for another year, to say the least. Working and studying virtually will become the norm for a certain portion of the population. As a result, a limited number of people will have pressing reasons to go out and hence less number of people will trigger the need for ride-sharing services. Keeping this shift in mind, companies like Pathao and Shohoz are diversifying their portfolio, having launched groceries and telehealth services during the pandemic to make sure its riders are given alternative modes of earning money for example- through parcel delivery, while demand for ride-sharing services recovers.
In conversation with Adnan Khan, Head of Truck Operations, Ticket & Ride at Shohoz, the following insights came to light, "We had to take a deep look into our roadmap and realign items to meet the challenges. Thanks to our nimble and highly qualified Tech and Product teams, we could make quick adjustments and expand our portfolio accordingly." While the demand for ride-sharing services was temporarily on a downfall, Shohoz's Health and Corona Tracer BD app helped them regain users' trust by their showing of dedication and sincerity towards combatting Covid-19 and thereby providing safety and good health for its users. Through the implementation of such measures, Shohoz, which resumed its ride-sharing services from September 3rd to a limited scale in Dhaka, are seeing an encouraging surge in its business with numbers going back to almost 75% of what they used to be before the pandemic.
On a global context, the prior estimated growth of 55% from 2020-21 for this industry is expected to be down by 2% post-Covid-19. However several adjustments including partitioned front and back seats, temperature checks and use of sanitizers upon entry have been taken up by all ride-sharing services to regain user trust and hence hike up demand. While a lot of these services are making a comeback, their success strategies during the pandemic highly rely on service diversification and strengthening their stance in newly emerging markets.
In addition to the steps taken by Bangladesh's leading ride-sharing services, a few other necessary adjustments need to be made which global frontrunners like Uber, Lyft and Didi have already implemented abroad. Firstly, ride-sharing services in Bangladesh which are yet to implement online payment as an option should do so as cashless transactions are projected to become a necessity in the post-pandemic world. Secondly, as people's increasing tendency to stay home reduced air pollution significantly during Covid-19, increasing environmentally conscious users will prefer ride-sharing companies which are making use of eco-friendly alternatives to keep emissions at a minimum in the future as well.
All in all, Bangladeshi ride-sharing services are slowly on the trend of recovering most of their loyal users and regaining the trust of people throughout the country with its proactive safety protocols and adjustments. As the world experiences dynamic shifts, it is truly exciting to witness what innovative measures these businesses have in store for its users in the long run.