Exclusive: Careem Bus quietly expands to Pakistan with its (pilot) launch in Karachi

Careem Bus, the app-based mass transit service by Careem, has quietly expanded to Pakistan with its launch in Karachi. We could not confirm as Careem did not respond to our request for a comment but it appears that this is is a pilot launch of the service.

The service, like Airlift and Swvl, is available through a dedicated ‘Careem Bus’ app (available for both Android and iOS) that allows users to search or browse through different routes, select the pick-up and drop-off points from the list of stops, and book their seats.

Careem Bus, according to the information available on its app, currently has ten lines (routes) in Karachi with all of them operating at 10 AM (only) on the weekdays. The app also indicates that the rides currently can be booked for PKR 1 which is less than a cent.

When we gave the app a try, we were assigned a captain who was driving Daihatsu Hijet which is an eight-seater minivan, and smaller than the vehicles being used by Airlift and Swvl.

Careem already operates these vehicles in its main ride-hailing app (car type in its app: Dabba) in different cities of Pakistan (but you have to book the entire car), which suggests that they might be using their existing captains with these minivans to run the pilot. We could not confirm this.

Pakistan is the fourth country for Careem Bus to launch its service in. Launched first in Cairo late last year, Careem Bus had expanded to Saudi earlier this year. It had apparently also launched a pilot of Careem Bus in Amman (Jordan) but according to the information available on its app doesn’t operate any lines there anymore.

Careem Bus that is led by Hadeer Shalaby (who has been working with the company since 2014 in different roles) has seen some high-profile departures from its team in the last few months including its Head of Engineering Helal Ismail and Prasanth Garapati, the co-founder and CEO of Commut, an Indian mass transportation startup that was acquired by Careem late last year. Both Helal and Prasanth are now with Cafu, the on-demand fuel delivery company that has been getting a lot of attention lately.

The Dubai-headquartered Careem that is being acquired by Uber with the launch of Careem Bus is taking on Airlift, the local startup that was first to launch app-based bus hailing service in Pakistan and has recently raised massive $12 million Series A led by First Round Capital and Swvl, one of the best-funded startups of the Middle East & North Africa, that expanded to Pakistan earlier this year.

Both Airlift and Swvl are heavily subsidizing the rides to win customers. The two companies are also burning a lot of cash in acquiring and retaining the supply.

Zubair Naeem Paracha
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