The Pakistani start-up Careem is providing transportation services to women in Pakistan, 85 percent of which have reported being harassed on public transportation. Now, the app is facing the possibility of raising their cost-per-ride fares in response to an updated government policy concerning the ride-hailing vehicles. Photo via Reuters

A start-up ride-hailing app is changing the way women in Karachi, Pakistan conduct their everyday lives.

Careem, the new taxi-hailing service, is working to combat the limited and often failing transportation systems, limited access to cars, and female harassment.

According to the New York Times, among women who regularly use public transportation, 85 percent report being harassed in some way. Similarly, only 3 percent of Pakistani households own cars.

Though the app wasn’t initially marketed toward women, they make up 70 percent of the company’s customers.

Huda Baig, 27, lives in Karachi and works in the tech industry. She now uses the app to get to and from work, to meet with friends, and to go to the gym.

“I never used public transport,” she said. “Only rickshaws or taxis when I had to.”

Baig said the app gives her a freedom she didn’t have when she relied on public transportation.

“I feel more confident in public,” she said. “Otherwise, I was never comfortable going anywhere alone.”

While the app-based transportation system is transforming the lives of women, the cost puts the service, for some, out of reach. Buses cost just 10 to 20 rupees a ride, or about 10 to 20 cents, while using the app could cost $1.50 or more, depending on distance and demand.

The company also regularly hosts training sessions for drivers or “captains.” In a training session, a young instructor named Muhammad Wahaj gives the drivers specific instructions to make sure women riders feel comfortable.

“Don’t look at a woman over and over again in your rear-view mirror. Don’t make comments about the way they dress. Don’t ask them if they’re married,” Wahaj said.

Now, Careem plans on rolling out its latest concept: taxis driven by women, who will pick up both male and female customers.

Careem’s Pakistan General Manager Ahmed Usman said the company wanted to give women the same opportunities as men. So far, seven women drivers had qualified to join the fleet, he said.  

According to the Express Tribune, the Punjab government recently released an updated policy for Careem, Uber, and other ride-hailing apps that will increase the fares customers have to pay.

Under the new policy, the owners will have to get their ride-hailing vehicles commercially registered, forcing them to pay a more expensive motor tax, eventually leading the increase in the cost-per-ride.  

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