Sunday 22 September 2019

Even on the deadly streets of Kabul, tech entreprenuers plan start-ups

Buber’s office, in the shadow of Kabul’s Darul Aman palace, features blast walls and armed guards.
Buber’s office, in the shadow of Kabul’s Darul Aman palace, features blast walls and armed guards.

Ben Farmer in Kabul

The home of Afghan start-up Buber may boast more security precautions than the average California internet firm, but the Silicon Valley zeal of its staff is just the same.

Buber's office, in the shadow of Kabul's Darul Aman palace, features blast walls and armed guards. From here, the firm hopes to become Afghanistan's equivalent of ride-hailing giant Uber.

Kabul's traffic-clogged streets are thronged with white-and-yellow taxis, but they are unmetered and passengers, who have little reassurance their driver is trustworthy, negotiate a price.

"If you go outside and book a taxi, it's really difficult because of the price negotiation, and because you don't trust the driver, or where he will take you," Zaheeruddin Naeabkhail, Buber's manager says.

A location-based, ride-hailing app similar to Uber offers not only easy cheap taxis, but also peace of mind in a city wracked with security issues.

Buber - which is set to go live in the next month or two, with 500 drivers - will let passengers share their location with friends and family, while drivers who sign up get access to better fares.

Afghanistan's security woes have so far frightened off Uber and its Middle East competitor, Careem.

The obstacles are daunting for Buber, which means 'take me' in the local Dari language,. As well as uncertain security, lots of Kabul's streets are not fully mapped by Google. Existing maps are quickly left out of date as new checkpoints and security barricades spring up to block traffic. And while the idea of a smartphone-based taxi service may be plain to tech-savvy, urban students and young workers, Kabul's drivers are likely to require a lot of training. With taxis fares currently the subject of haggling, Buber has also had to reach consensus on a reasonable fixed rate per mile.

The potential rewards for being the Afghan Uber mean Buber is also not the first to try. Several smaller firms have already set up with varying levels of success.

The challenge has given hope to the company's young developers who have seen many of their contemporaries flee abroad.


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