Covid-19: Pakistani mass transit startup Airlift temporarily suspends its services

Pakistani mass transit startup Airlift has temporarily suspended its services in the country due to the spread of Covid-19 (Coronavirus) in the country, it announced in a statement to MENAbytes today. The Lahore-headquartered startup that allows users to book rides on premium quality buses with fixed routes has suspended the operations in both Lahore and Karachi until April 6, 2020.

Pakistan currently has over 200 confirmed cases but hasn’t reported any death yet. The majority of these cases have been confirmed in the last 48 hours. The country has closed educational institutions and the government has instructed people to observe social distancing but public transportation continues to operate.

The World Health Organization (WHO) that had declared Covid-19 as a pandemic less than a week ago has now it as the”defining global health crisis of our time”. The virus has infected over 184,000 people all over the world, killing over 7,500 of them.

Usman Gul, the co-founder and CEO of Airlift, speaking to MENAbytes, said, “We have suspended operations because we believe it is the right thing to do, we are acting in the collective interest. Running buses packed with 10+ passengers right now is a catastrophic move, it will inevitably accelerate the spread of the virus — public transport is shutting down globally (just like offices, malls, and other crowded places).”

Pakistan’s government has not issued any directive to Airlift (or others in the same space) to suspend its services. Airlift confirmed to MENAbytes that it hasn’t come across any Covid-19 case with a recent history of using its services and the decision it has taken is to ensure the safety of its users.

“This was a conscious and thoughtful decision made by the Airlift team as a response to the pandemic and after studying global precedent. Globally many city administrations and companies like Uber have also restricted/suspended their mass transit services,” said Syed Mehr Haider, the executive director of Airlift, speaking to MENAbytes.

“Our decision to suspend services is a result of a realignment of our strategy from a business interest perspective to one that is aligned with and in congruence with national and global containment efforts. Recognizing our responsibility as a private sector institution, our decision is our way of aiding government efforts and ensuring against a crippling burden being transferred on to our health care system,” he added.

The startup is also establishing a relief fund to raise capital via donations to help its pilots (a term it uses for its drivers).

Airlift has told MENAbytes that it will reassess the situation closer to April 6 and resume services in alignment with guidance from the government, especially the Ministry of Health and the National Security Council.

“While Airlift is prepared to resume operations, our first and foremost priority will remain the health and safety of our pilots [drivers] and our passengers. With that concern in mind, we will assess the situation and proceed accordingly. If this means sustaining the suspension of service, we will do that because the fight against Coronavirus is a global one and we must do everything we can to assist our government in this time of crisis,” noted Mehr.

Swvl, the Egyptian startup that competes with Airlift in Pakistan hasn’t made any such announcement yet. Its app is still showing the trips for the next few days, suggesting that they don’t have any plans to suspend operations for now.

Zubair Naeem Paracha
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