By Mehreen Zahra-Malik
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - Online taxi-hailing service Uber will launch in Pakistan by the end of the year, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday, part of an aggressive push targeting megacities in the Asia Pacific region.
Undeterred by the failure of other online taxi-hailing ventures in Pakistan, Uber's career page advertised three top manager positions in the eastern city of Lahore this week.
The company hopes Pakistan's launch of 3G and 4G telecommunication services last year will galvanise business.
Fourteen percent of Pakistan's population of 190 million has access to the Internet and 73 percent to mobile phones, the country's telecommunications authority says.
“We want to launch by the end of the year or at the latest by early next year,” Shaden Abdellatif, Uber’s head of communications for the Middle East and Africa, told Reuters.
“We will put together a team in Lahore within the next couple of months,” she said, referring to Pakistan’s second largest city where the service will first be launched.
Uber Technologies Inc, currently valued at over $50 billion, uses a free GPS-enabled app to link drivers from private car companies to passengers at cheaper rates and promises a quicker response time - often within 10 minutes.
The company, founded in 2009, has expanded more quickly globally than any company in history and is operating in 300 cities in over 60 countries.
GLOBAL BRAND, LOCAL ADJUSTMENTS
The Pakistan launch of Uber comes after other taxi-hailing ventures, such as German ecommerce investor Rocket Internet’s Easy Taxi app, have failed to penetrate the market. But Uber hopes its brand will attract business.
“What we are bringing to Pakistan is our brand and more than that, the experience of our brand around the world,” Abdellatif said.
Uber usually uses credit cards or other electronic payment methods to charge customers but the company plans to develop new products and payment solutions for Pakistan, where credit cards are much rarer than Internet connections.
The safety of both passengers and drivers will also be a major challenge in a country with high crime rates and an intractable Taliban insurgency.
In neighbouring India, the government temporarily banned Uber after an Uber driver was accused of rape.
The company says all Pakistan drivers will go through a rigorous screening process and background checks, while the app itself will send riders the driver's name, photo and car license plate and allow them to share their route with family or friends.
“In some markets, we've worked with local authorities to integrate additional safety measures,” Abdellatif said.
“We'll explore all options in Pakistan to ensure riders and drivers have the smoothest and safest Uber experience possible.”
(Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Mark Heinrich)