Wrapping my fingers firmly around the shoulder of my driver, I knew this was not going to be the usual mundane ride. While securing the helmet around my face, I was certain that I had used my head and made the right call. With the gentle roll of the accelerator that put our bike-taxi into motion, I knew that my hope of reaching destination in time stood in solitary isolation against Dhaka's grievous bumper-to-bumper traffic.
A few minutes back, my colleagues in Gulshan-2 had laughed out loud when I told them that I had a flight to catch in the next 90 minutes. Surprised, they said it was useless to even go to the airport. I argued that covering a distance of about 10 kilometres wouldn't be difficult. Well, technically it was okay. But one needs to scale over the city's nagging snarl-ups first. They estimated that I would take at least 120 minutes to reach the airport. Call yourself a drone, they mocked.
A good idea, I thought. Placing my ride to the airport depending on the seamless Pathao mobile app and walking hurriedly towards the scheduled meeting point, I could see a sliver of light peeping out of the ominous thunderclaps. Was that a sign from the heaven? Well, I would soon find out.
Checking my watch, I could see that I had about 25 minutes to go before my flight's check-in gates get closed. Closing my eyes, I knew that I had to place my trust in this unique mode of transport that was now whizzing past a long line of stationary cars. It was as good as flying past the traffic. Where no car could go, these bikes could easily go.
Braking to a halt just as the amber lights turned red at the intersection, I turned my attention to my watch - 15 minutes to go for the closure of my check-in. After what seemed an eternity for the red blob to finally turn green, the bike roared into action and surged towards my destination. Yet again safely dodging traffic in and out of lanes and arterial roads, squeezing parallel to the sidewalks and skirting past vehicles that seemed comatose, I had never witnessed Dhaka in such a blurred haze. Ten minutes to go. Long signal ahead. Surely impossible now.
Suddenly, my quick-thinking driver careened to the left as he maneuvered into a by-lane - a short-cut. Now we encountered an entirely new sort of traffic. Pedestrians! But I was already betting on my driver. He had clearly made my urgency his own. Using a combination of the horn and "Ektu side please!", we crossed this hurdle too as I could see the airport building rising like a glorious sight in the distance. And, five minutes to go…
POSTSCRIPT: As I sat back to admire the views of the city below from up in the clouds, I knew that Pathao had arrived. Here's why.
The ride-hailing app is a positive response to Dhaka's dense gridlocks, widely considered to be a massive sinkhole that sucks hundreds of thousands of productive working hours and tens of millions of dollars of the economy. Not only do commuters spend idle time waiting on the roads, they also have to leave their workplace early if, say, they want to join a meeting in time.
The ride-hailing app is a disruptive response to mobility as the shared-transportation model is an encouraging personification of alleviating the traffic burden on the city's heaving roads.
The ride-hailing app is also an economic response to travel as the cost per kilometre works out to be far in favour of the commuter. For riders like me, the economics of Pathao stand to be amplified when the costs of missed flights are also considered.
The ride-hailing app is a gainful response to employment as its driver-partners can now monetise an asset that would otherwise be lying unproductive in a garage when not in use. My young driver told me that he was a college student and Pathao helped him pay his tuition fees. Out of curiosity, I asked him what he would do in his spare time before he had enrolled for Pathao. Pat came the reply, "sleep".
The ride-hailing app is an innovative response to a world that seeks convenience far more aggressively now than ever before. At a time when doorstep delivery/accessibility is quickly becoming the norm, Pathao is optimising its fast-growing logistical network for the delivery of food and other parcels too.
The ride-hailing app is thus a forward-looking response to aid the government's move towards a less-cash economy. I was told that Pathao is coming up with its own wallet that will open up the convenience for passengers to pay digitally - and not through the exchange of physical cash.
I have a complaint with Pathao though. When I requested my driver to keep the change as a token of my appreciation, he flatly refused, saying that it was his job to help me reach my destination. Must speak to Mr. Elius on his HR management strategies.
As I close, a wonderful quote by the legendary Victor Hugo comes to mind: 'nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.' Indeed, Pathao seems to be such an idea!
Adnan Hamid is a writer specialising in corporate analysis and content.
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