Complex Made Simple

Exclusive: Mobility startup Caravan is redefining Car lift services in the region

AMEinfo speaks Amr Ramadan, CSO of UAE mobility startup Caravan, which is set to redefine the Car lift services in the UAE and beyond.

"The Caravan concept began with a simple question: What can be done to reduce the number of cars on the road and the resulting congestion and pollution caused by them?" "The term Car lift in the UAE refers to privately-owned buses and private cars that transport passengers in the country from home to work and back" "Caravan aims to formalize the Car lift bus market, using its technology to allow passengers to book and pay for safe, high quality, affordable buses that are safer and better run than what is currently available"

By now, the UAE has become well-known enough for many aspects: the Burj Khalifa, its burgeoning tourism industry, Expo 2021, and more. Additionally, the country is also known for its constantly growing mobility sector, bringing to life one of the region’s first tech unicorns of all time: Careem. 

With an increasing population, mobility solutions are constantly in demand to help address the country’s well-documented traffic problem. One of the latest startups to try and tackle this problem is Caravan. 

“The Caravan concept began with a simple question: What can be done to reduce the number of cars on the road and the resulting congestion and pollution caused by them?” Amr Ramadan, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer told AMEinfo

Caravan is an innovative mobility tech start-up, specializing in work commute bus services (Car lifts). A fully certified, affordable, efficient, sustainable, and socially distanced alternative to informal transport, Caravan is redefining Car lift services in the UAE and beyond. 

Amr Ramadan, CSO, Caravan

Caravan is focused on expanding its work commute routes across the UAE, the GCC and Egypt, offering commuters a convenient door-to-door service from their homes to their workplaces.

For all its routes, Caravan partners with trusted private bus providers, which enables it to take advantage of high-quality buses and best-in-practice operational processes. This ensures commuters’ comfort, health and safety are always looked after, while social distancing requirements are effortlessly adhered to.

Hoping to learn more about this exciting new company, AMEinfo spoke with Amr Ramadan,  Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer (CSO).

Can you tell us more about how your company came to be and the market need you were trying to address?

Co-founded by Syed Karim (COO), Mark Hanna (CEO), and Amr Ramadan (CSO) – the Caravan concept began with a simple question: What can be done to reduce the number of cars on the road and the resulting congestion and pollution caused by them?

In the UAE, the Caravan team chose to solve this problem by formalizing the Car lift bus sector. The term Car lift in the UAE refers to privately-owned buses and private cars that transport passengers in the country from home to work and back. They are considered private passenger transport that solves the first-last mile transport challenge by offering door to door services. Still, authorities view them as illegal, as they transfer employees from more than one company on the same bus without the necessary permits. Most operate 14 seater vehicles and are not following social distancing restrictions or standard operational safety procedures. There are many cases of fraud where operators take passengers’ money and run. These services are unsafe and causing a large proportion of accidents that claim many lives; due to the informal nature of operations, there is no accountability. Still, we estimate that over 100,000 people use Car lifts in the UAE over 300 routes. 

Caravan aims to formalize the Car lift bus market, using its technology to allow passengers to book and pay for safe, high quality, affordable buses that are safer and better run than what is currently available. 

Caravan has identified that the Car lift market in the UAE is part of a broader informal transport phenomenon globally in most emerging markets. Fragmented ownership of 14 to 30-seater buses that are privately run has led to a widespread lack of planning, coordination, and control in the market. Caravan is perfectly positioned to provide a legitimate and effective solution to such mobility problems. Our research has shown that the informal transport sector caters to hundreds of millions of people around the world, with an annual spend of hundreds of billions of dollars in emerging cities, which presents the opportunity for Caravan to establish itself as a local market leader before expanding its operations regionally and subsequently across the globe.

Read: A brush with death: The exclusive untold story of Careem

The mobility sector in the region is very crowded and competitive. What is your unique selling proposition (USP) that will help you stand out in such a market?

While most other companies in this sector are looking for ways to disrupt the premium transport sector, the Caravan team set about making a sustainable and affordable impact on local communities by solving a significant problem for the vast majority of commuters throughout the UAE and beyond. There are a few other USPs that will help us stand out:

  • At this time, we are not going to be introducing more buses and routes on the road. Instead, we will make the current informal systems more efficient using the bus networks that already exist, which we think is inefficient but profitable. 

  • We aim to become a government-friendly partner. We are working with transport authorities in the UAE pushing for regulation, which is better for us as we have provided high standards.

  • We increase the operational efficiency of buses by increasing shifts and utilization of the buses throughout the day·    

  • We target the lower and middle class who can’t work from home, as people usually forget about them.

Given that Caravan doesn’t own any buses but rather deals with private bus providers, how do you ensure consistency and quality across all your contractors?

We apply strict standards for who we work with, and we only partner with trusted private bus providers. By doing so, we take advantage of high-quality buses and best-in-practice operational processes, ensuring the commuter’s comfort, health, and safety are always looked after, while social distancing requirements are also maintained. To ensure consistency, we have partnered with only large-scale reputable private transport companies that already work closely with authorities. In some cases, we set up partnerships with government operators directly.

What’s your journey in the Middle East been like so far? Any particular challenges?

We started our journey in Dubai to try and formalize the Car lift Market. Our main challenge is that operators are currently choosing profitability over safety, causing us to shift our strategy to work with reliable operators and work closely with transport authorities to regulate the market and raise it to specific standards. 

Read: What Careem can teach other aspiring Middle East startups

Can you share any data on funding rounds, investors, and such?

As a combined entity, we’ve raised close to $1m across our respective seed rounds from Wamda Capital, angel syndicates, and other reputable business people in the region. We’re also in the process of raising a bridge round to our Series A, which will allow us to not only continue building out our network in the UAE but also fund our regional expansion plans across the GCC and Egypt.

How has COVID-19 affected your business, and how have you adapted?

Before COVID, we worked with Car lift operators as an aggregator like the UBER or Careem models. COVID-19 helped us rethink our strategy when it comes to providing a safe, high-quality service. We realized that without government support and partnerships on regulation and bus standards and specifications, we would be unable to control the level of service we could achieve with these informal operators. Post-COVID, our strategy is to partner with trusted private bus providers, enabling us to take advantage of high-quality buses and best-in-practice operational processes, ensuring commuters comfort, health, and safety are always looked after social distancing requirements are maintained.

What are your plans for the future?

We are already making plans to roll out new routes over the coming months. The team looks to expand the reach of its innovative formalization of informal bus services beyond Dubai, Sharjah, and Ajman, and across other emirates very shortly, before expanding across the whole GCC region and Egypt.