Faster, cheaper, greener: Pakistanis turn to car-pooling service

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Xinhua/Ahmad Kamal

ISLAMABAD (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Medical student Mahnoor Sherazi used to hail a shared public taxi to get to school, a way of traveling she found expensive, occasionally unsettling and often inconvenient, with many stops slowing her commute.

But she has now found a better – and greener – alternative: A ride sharing website that connects her with drivers who have free seats in their cars and who regularly make a similar commute between Islamabad and its twin city Rawalpindi.

Now, for a lower fixed price, she gets to school faster and more reliably, she said.

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“Earlier, I was facing two problems in using a traditional pick-and-drop taxi service. It was very expensive and, for a number of times, my hospital timings mismatched with those of other customers,” Ms Sherazi, 23, said.

Switching to ride sharing three months ago has cut her commuting costs by 40 percent, she said, and given her a “sense of safety during the commute”.

The RASAI website is the work of Muhammad Hassamuddin, 26, a civil engineer and graduate of the National University of Science and Technology.

Since launching in mid-2018, it now has 1,400 registered users and more than 300 participating vehicles, he said.

“Our purpose and business model is to give easy access to transport services for people by bringing them online,” while also cutting travel costs and use of fuel, Mr Hassamuddin said in an interview at his office in Islamabad.

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The service, which has won recognition from UN Environment as part of a push to promote low-carbon lifestyles, also helps cut congestion and pollution – both huge problems in Islamabad and other Pakistani cities – by decreasing the number of vehicles on the road, he said.

“Our overall vision is to utilise the extra capacity of vehicles, either passenger or goods vehicles, plying the roads,” said Mr Hassamuddin, who began toying with the idea when he, like Ms Sherazi, was a student struggling to get to college.

“I saw a particular need to start this project,” he remembers.

Through the website, cars and vans that travel a daily route register with RASAI, and customers looking for a ride are notified of possible matches, he said.

At the moment, connections are made by telephone or text message, though Mr Hassamuddin is working on a mobile phone app to handle the process.

Currently about 600 riders use the service for regular daily pick-ups, he said.

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