Marawan Alwaraki is a tech blogger and computer science student. He’ll occasionally be reviewing apps commonly used in Qatar for Doha News. In his first in the series, he looks at Mowasalat’s Karwa taxi-booking app.
Remember the days when you had to stand under Qatar’s blazing sun waiting for your savior – a Karwa taxi – to appear on the road? A road that you were about to risk your life crossing just to get to the taxi.
We’ve come a long way since then, and as of January this year, anyone with a smartphone can now order a sea green taxi on demand, using Mowasalat’s Karwa smartphone app.
While it’s good that the 12-year-old state-owned transport company is making it easier to order a taxi in Qatar, Mowasalat is simply catching up to competitors such as Uber and Careem, both of which have been in Qatar for over two years.
You might expect that a Qatari-owned business would do better here than foreign ones. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
I’ve used all three apps frequently over the last few months, and Karwa comes in third place.
This article won’t be the rant of an angry customer, I promise. Instead, it’ll be a structured review that points out both the good and bad about Karwa, as well as offering suggestions for improvement.
After all, the company claims that customer feedback helps it drive forward, so hopefully this review will help do that.
Let’s start with what’s bad.
No ETA before ordering
Karwa doesn’t offer an estimated arrival time (ETA) until after you’ve ordered the taxi.
In contrast, both Uber and Careem let users see an ETA before ordering. Even after ordering, Karwa’s ETA is extremely inaccurate based on my experience.
This is because it’s not done algorithmically.
Most ride booking apps work out an ETA based on factors such as the number of available taxis and distance between you and the available taxis.
I haven’t used Careem enough to rate how good their ETA works, but Uber’s has been extremely accurate for me.
Karwa doesn’t use any sort of algorithm to provide an ETA. Instead, when you order the taxi, a nearby driver is given three options to choose from: five minutes, 10 minutes, or 15 minutes.
This is problematic for two reasons.
Firstly, users don’t get an ETA until after the ride has been requested. You can order a ride then cancel it if you’re not happy with the ETA, but this is definitely a lot more inconvenient than simply seeing the ETA when you first launch the app.
Secondly, a driver quickly guessing an ETA is nowhere near as accurate as a computer. Thus, I suggest that Mowasalat adopt an algorithmic ETA for its Karwa app.
You might be thinking: why not just book a taxi in advance?
Booking taxis in advance sucks
I like that I can book taxis in advance, hats off to Karwa for adding that feature. It’s a feature not present in Uber, although it is available in Careem.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work as expected.
You’d assume a taxi ordered for 2pm will arrive at 2pm. But alas, no.
When booking a taxi in advance, Karwa notifies drivers 10 minutes in advance of your booking time. So when you order a taxi in advance for 2pm, Karwa will notify drivers at 1:50pm.
Whether the driver arrives in five minutes or 20 minutes is a different story. In fact, I’ve had drivers arriving too early and calling me several times in a row to come outside.
Since I’m not ready, I tell them I’ll be out in a few minutes, which can annoy them.
On the other hand, I’ve had drivers arriving a lot later than the time I selected.
I don’t think the drivers are even told that the customer ordered the taxi for 2pm. They’re just notified that someone wants to be picked up.
The reason I believe this is because I’ve tried telling drivers that I booked the taxi in advance and will be out in a few minutes when I can leave, but they had no idea what I was talking about.
Too. Many. Notifications.
When ordering a Karwa taxi, expect to get many notifications. Way more than you need to.
Text your mom, “help I’m in danger,” and order a Karwa at the same time. You’ll get more notifications and calls from Karwa.
Ok, I’m exaggerating. But Karwa does send too many notifications. You even get the same notifications twice.
Also, add the fact that a driver will call you about four times before even reaching your destination and another four after it and you’re looking at a pretty terrible customer experience.
Here’s the problem. The service sends you the same notifications using the app as the ones it sends via SMS, leading to duplicate notifications.
I can see why it sends SMS alerts. Maybe someone ordered a taxi then turned off mobile data. But then, what’s the point of the app notifications?
Also, let me nit-pick here. In the SMS alerts, you’re invited to download the Karwa app on your smartphone for easier booking. But… that’s how I booked the ride, isn’t it?
For real, though, I’d suggest Karwa lets users decide which type of notifications they’d like: app notifications or SMS.
Maybe even abandon the app ones altogether. Also, I’d suggest they train drivers not to call several times within the same minute as it just becomes annoying.
Drivers calling for directions
“Keep the mall to your left and take right at the second traffic light. Then go past the first speed bump and take a left… What? There’s no speed bump? Ok, ok, where’s the mall for you now?”
I hate giving directions. It’s hard and confusing. Thankfully, Karwa lets you book the taxi to come straight to your location. Great!
But taxis don’t always follow the GPS. Not great.
I honestly don’t get it. I have drivers calling to ask me for directions when the GPS has clear turn-by-turn navigation.
Mowasalat needs to get drivers relying more on the GPS and less on phone calls asking for directions.
A couple of extra annoyances
There are a few more little problems with Karwa that aren’t worth their own section, but worth pointing out.
The first one is that taxis can cancel on you and Karwa won’t even notify you. You get about six notifications when you book a ride, but not a single one when the driver cancels it.
I received a notification that my taxi is here, I went outside a few minutes later and he wasn’t there. After attempting to reach the driver, he told me he’d canceled the ride.
It’s these one-off incidents that could make Karwa lose a regular customer. The solution is to stop drivers from canceling rides as soon as they arrive, or to notify users when a driver cancels the ride.
It blows my mind that Karwa didn’t think this is something worth adding.
Also, the GPS the drivers are given isn’t that great. It does show them the way to the destination, so there’s no reason for drivers to call asking for directions, but it doesn’t always show the quickest route.
There is some good, though!
I promised that this review wouldn’t be a rant. I included suggestions wherever possible, but so far it’s all been me criticizing Karwa. Let’s switch the tone a bit and talk about a few good features Karwa has.
Karwa lets you rebook rides. It automatically fills in your start and end points as well as any notes you left for the driver.
It’s a great feature and I use it a lot to get to frequent places. Rebooking isn’t available on Uber, and it’s great to see Mowasalat innovating and thinking up new ideas to make its Karwa app better.
Booking in advance
I know I just had a go at how booking in advance sucks. But, it’s nice that the feature is even there at all.
It’s good for times when you know you won’t have an internet connection, or just want to get it over and done with. Sure, it doesn’t work as it should, but it’s still pretty decent.
A pretty big advantage, and honestly it’s probably the only reason anyone still uses Karwa.
Doha News reported that Uber cut fares in Qatar in April, but it is still cheaper to use Karwa.
Note to drivers
This is one of my favorite features in Karwa.
When ordering a taxi, you can add a note to let the driver know which gate you’re waiting by, your house number or any other additional details that may help the driver reach your exact location.
It’s cool and works well. Based on my experience, drivers read these notes and follow them.
See, I told you I’d point out the good too!
All in all, Karwa clearly has some work to do.
I appreciate that Mowasalat made it a lot easier for us to book taxis than before, and that the company is offering us an affordable ride booking service.
But I think that it really needs to make the app more seamless, and the experience more enjoyable in order to increase bookings.
Mowasalat is currently managing four different franchise operators. It’s great that all the operators are under the same roof, and that the user doesn’t have to pick between them.
But I think that for the company to successfully grow, it’ll need to focus on retaining users as well as adding new ones, not just on adding more taxis.
Mowasalat is large and local enough to provide the best ride booking service in the country. However, the app’s issues must be smoothed out before the company can claim that status.
There’s a lesson for everyone to be learned here: A few years ago, the word “taxi” was synonymous with Karwa in Qatar, just like “search” is synonymous with Google.
But that’s not the case anymore for many people.
It’s important to stay ahead of the curve before other competitors take away your user base.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this Opinion article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Doha News’ editorial policy.