A general view of road traffic after Pakistan started easing the COVID-19 lockdown in Karachi, Pakistan, May 11, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

Islamabad: Fuel prices have been rising continuously for the last five weeks in Pakistan, forcing many people to rethink their driving plans and alter buying patterns.

As petrol prices spiked to a record high Rs248 (US$1.2) per litre, a 66 per cent increase in one month, many Pakistani commuters grappling with inflation are turning to alternatives such as public transport like buses, rickshaws and even bicycles in an effort to save money.

Another common solution is carpooling. To make carpooling popular and easier, a 22-year-old Pakistani graduate Mughira Irfan has developed an app called ‘DriveLu’. The Islamabad-based startup lets commuters find fellow travellers to share a journey together while making extra money on the side. More than 6,000 people have already signed up within a few days of the app launch which indicates that people are actively pursuing new travel options.

Irfan, who has a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, began working on the app some two years ago during his final years at Bahria University in Islamabad. With fuel prices hovering around record highs, he feels now is the right time to launch the app which also could be a step toward achieving cheaper, safer and greener modes of transport in Pakistan.

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22-year-old Mughira Irfan has developed an app called ‘DriveLu’ to ease congestion and save money. Image Credit: Supplied

Why not carpool?

“Why use one car for one person when you can transport two to four people at once? Why not just carpool?” he said. “Ride-sharing will require fewer trips, less time, while also reducing traffic and cleaner air.”

When asked what compelled him to launch a carpooling app, Irfan said: “I didn’t have a car or bike during university days and I was uncomfortable commuting in local vans. Standing at the bus stop, I noticed tons of cars with no one but the driver, and I thought ‘What if I could simply pay them to take me along?’ They would make extra money and I’d get a comfortable ride.”

This is basically the concept of his startup. “DriveLu gives vehicle owners an easy and lucrative side hustle while making travel much cheaper for those who don’t own vehicles,” he said. “Fewer cars on the roads mean less traffic which will also help reduce our country’s carbon footprint and cut air pollution.”

Irfan is currently working on the app with a small team including his brother Talha as backend programmer, his friend Hashir managing the database management systems and Hamza as marketing professional. The ride-sharing service is currently available in the twin cities Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

DriveLu CEO Irfan says they are helping Pakistanis turn their vehicle into “an asset instead of a liability since you can rideshare wherever you go and earn money on the same route you travel every day.” The startup founder says it’s just the beginning and they aim to hit a million users by the end of 2023 by bringing new innovations and great user experience to make the transportation systems more efficient and reliable.

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DriveLu carpooling app. Image Credit: Supplied

Dealing with challenges

The two biggest reasons people felt reluctant to carpool were lack of trust and security concerns. Explaining how they will manage the risk involved in riding with someone else and ensure safety, Irfan said that all users will have to provide their CNIC numbers and all drivers will be required to upload pictures of their driver’s license. The startup also plans to work with the national database authority NADRA to enhance the app’s security. Additionally, “we have incorporated a panic button in the app which anyone can press if they feel unsafe during a ride. It will alert us immediately and allow us to contact local authorities.”

Discussing challenges, he said, one of the biggest issues they are currently facing is coordinating with users but they are working every day to improve the user experience. “This app is still in beta version. We call individual users and ask them about their experience and views which allows us to give people the app that they want, not the app that we think they need.”

Making carpooling popular in Pakistan

Several other companies have also introduced carpool services such as vCarpool, Carpoolyn, Carsea, and Ridely, mostly in the populated cities of Karachi and Lahore. However, DriveLu’s founder says the company is not afraid of competitors because all of them are striving toward the similar goal of making lives easier.

Ride-sharing services have immense potential for a positive impact on society, environment and economy by reducing traffic congestion, pollution, energy consumption as well as drivers’ stress. The global ridesharing market has shown remarkable growth in the last few years due to the demand for time and cost-saving transport.

A 2021 study that analysed the attitude of Islamabad travellers towards carpooling revealed that ride-sharing services could attract more travellers if they are provided high-occupancy vehicle lanes (for cars with two or more passengers) to allow riders to bypass traffic and save time.

Frustrated over the record increase in food and fuel prices, Pakistanis are already searching for cheaper travel options. Samreen Ahmed, who travels from Rawalpindi to Islamabad’s Blue Area every day for work, says the petrol price hike has forced their family to use one car. She said they had no option but to rely on their own cars due to the lack of access to public transport in her area. “Me and my husband have started commuting together and leave the house a little early to first drop the kids at school. That way we can save some money” she says. When asked about carpooling she said she has never tried any ride-sharing service but would definitely consider it to cut costs and stress.