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Airlift – the new trend in the immature mass-transit market of Lahore

Lahore is the second-populous city of Pakistan. It has a population of around 12 million people and with every passing year, its population has been increasing exponentially. So, with this sharp growing population, there is an acute need to facilitate day to day activities to keep the economy rolling and to cater to wider problems, which includes unemployment, infrastructure and transportation.

This is the age of smartphones and 4G high-speed internet, so in these days everyone is familiar with ride-hailing apps, which are providing commuters with a source of safe and comfortable means of travel but with the rising fuel prices. The cost-benefit analysis shows that even these ride-hailing apps, sometimes go out of reach of a common man.

 Airlift is an app-managed mass transit program, which runs conductor-less, charges group rides’ credit through a debit card. Airlift doesn’t operate on weekends. The timings and routes are pre-set, one has to select a route at least 30-minute before the route starts.

At first, Airlift started routes, 5 months back, from Bahria to the city centre. Slowly and gradually, by word of mouth, this service got traction. So gradually Airlift expanded itself to other routes, touching as far as Lorry Adda, Minar e Pakistan, to Bahria Orchards, DHA, Walton, Wapda and Johar Town, Askari, Gulberg, Jail Road, Mall Road.

Business Problems Surfaced:

But the problems then started cropping up, rearing its head. The problem in Pakistan is, if your business is a success, everyone else who demotivated you, discouraged you and stopped you, start demanding their share of your success. The same happened with Airlift. The local transport authority, run by police stalwarts, who are themselves running their own notorious privately-run mini-van network, objected the route usage by Airlift. That’s why Airlift was sanctioned, banned and stopped from operating for a brief time. The network got disbanded but soon it came in power again. The target market was growing for the bus service. Then airlift, down the line in just 5 months, won financing award from a start-up program to the tune of US$2.2 million, also the fleet grew. The buses are of good quality, air-conditioned. The service is quite timely and safe, especially for women. But sometimes, service gets suspended, the booked route and bus gets cancelled for no prior reason.

A sizable segment has shifted from pooled rides, Uber and Careem to Airlift, which charged only Rs.50 a ride and now they are charging Rs.110 a ride. So, a person living in Bahria goes to work to Gulberg, gets a round trip in Rs.220. This is still cheaper than a one-way ride on a Careem/Uber bike, which costs an average of Rs.200. Hence, the monthly budget for everyday commute has almost reduced to 50%. A full month Careem’s bike ride costs Rs.8,000 (for the fixed destination, not farther than Gulberg from Bahria), while on the other hand, Airlift costs around Rs.4,000, wherever your destination is.

The Airlift Mathematics Costing Uber & Careem :

Let’s get a breakdown of what is costing Uber and Careem. Up till Ichra, in alphabetical order, there are 140 stops Airlift is touching and it’s still counting. In total, 304 locations across Lahore are being accessed by Airlift.

Notable areas like Bahria, Bahria Orchards, Bahria Nasheman which is opposite to Central Park Housing Scheme on Ferozpur road, the Badshahi Masjid, Minar e Pakistan, Revenue Society, Wapda town, Valencia, Tariq Gardens, DHA, Sui Gas Society, Gulberg, Jail Road, Youhanabad, Wahdat Road, Walton, Punjab University, Thoker Niaz Baig, Timber Market, Sundar Industrial Estate, Sher Shah Colony near Raiwind Road and Defence Road, Shalimar Link Road, Model Town, Shadman, Shad Bagh (that’s far away indeed), Sanda Road, Saddar (one of my favourite vintage spots of the city), Ring Road, Rehmanpura Gardens, RA Bazar (the abbreviation is the Royal Artillery Bazar), Queens Road, Quaid – e – Azam Industrial Estate (near pindi stop, Kot Lakhpat), Qartaba Chowk (Muzang), PECO Road, PCSIR society, Paragon City (that’s another end of the city), Pak Arab Society, NFC society, Nicholson Road, NESPAK society II, Shaukat Khanum, Muhafiz Town, Model Town Link Road, Mian Mir Colony and the list is endless. Lytton Road, Lake City (another edge of the city), Johar Town, Harbanspura, Garden Town and on and on it goes. Airline Society, Burki Road, just to add a few more, but this is still not exhaustive.

Timing Slots:

Airlift started with limited time slots to accommodate the office goers in the early morning shift. It started with the 7:00-8:00 AM slot to 10:00-10:30 AM slot. Gradually, they increased their fleet, the timing slots were added with each slot serving 2-3 buses.

So if we take the example of Bahria to Jail Road slot, for instance, there are 27 slots. The busiest one is the slot of 07:40 AM, starting from Bahria, ending on Jail Road at 09.27 AM. That’s about an hour’s ride. Why wouldn’t the executives use this service? This saves the driving fatigue, saves petrol, saves maintenance overheads, saves one from parking woes, and costs just about Rs. 110 per ride, for one way. In a return trip, one only have to spend 220 rupees, whereas, a return trip on Uber and Careem would cost on the same route, around PKR.800 to PKR.1200. That’s about 545% more than using Airlift. The timings are perfect. The ride is comfortable. Plus one gets to interact with people.

In Uber / Careem, the drivers are either very talkative or inquisitive or they’re quite silent, wary of their ratings being negative if they talk even a little bit. Some drivers are quite educated and sober but sometimes it becomes a pain if the drivers are not well-rehearsed with the roads and locations of the city. That happens quite a lot of time.

Imagine if you had to take a bike ride on this route – every day, that is just so painful, physically, mentally and for your hair. All messed up, taking the pollution of the city.

Now let’s do the mathematics – the mathematics is directly proportional to the overheads and opportunity cost Uber / Careem are losing every day.

  1. There are 24 seats in the bus.
  2. The busiest slots are the morning – 07:00 AM to 10.3:0 AM slots.
  3. 3 slots are the busiest, quarter to 8.00 AM to 10.00 AM slots
  4. Average occupancy on these busy slots, per bus, is around 10-15.
  5. The less busy slots have an average occupancy of 2 in the minimum. These slots start after 10.30 AM.

Let’s put the averages together and see what it is costing Uber and Careem monthly

  1. 15 people board the buses – paying Rs. 110. The return trip is PKR.220. Totaling Rs. 3,300 on a round trip. Now, this is for just 1 route. If that’s 3 buses for the same slot (the busiest slot – the mathematics is 3 times – PKR. 10,000 average).
  2. Let’s suppose out of 304 stops, it connects with half of these – that’s about 152.
  3. The majority of the workplaces are situated in Gulberg, Jail Road, Model Town, Mall Road – that’s where the majority of executives come to work at.
  4. Most of Lahore’s population now resides in 6-8 areas – the old city, Iqbal Town, Model Town, Wapda Town, Valencia, Johar Town, Bahria.
  5. If an average of 2000 people from these areas, in total, use this service daily – that’s about PKR. 9.6 million rupees a month (a month of 22, Airlift doesn’t operate on weekends).
  6. With each addition of a route, these 2000 can swell up to 6000. You’re smart to do the maths.
  7. Airlift didn’t use conventional marketing methods – saved the capital. By word of mouth, people learned about the service and it’s going strong and growing.

Airlift’s strengths lie not only in its facilitation of fast and reliable access to the daily commute but in its ability to comprehend localized inefficiencies and provide native solutions; in less than a year, it has come up as a viable solution for people that values time, safety and urban mobility.


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