‘The biggest change we made was enabling essential transport on the app’: PickMe on how they’ve scaled operations

PickMe, which rose to the occasion during the first wave of Covid with the delivery of essentials and groceries, in partnership with Litro, Lanka Sathosa, Unilever, CBL, Velona Cuddles, and many others, it seems, has once again gone the extra mile to ensure the safety of Sri Lankan citizens by implementing many programmes and precautionary measures. 

Throughout the first few lockdowns earlier this year which were introduced in March, PickMe was able to cater to the needs of over 400,000 households during the initial lockdown period, around the island.

PickMe Head of Marketing and Communications Gowshik Sathiyasiva, speaking to Brunch, shared some insight on how they have been faring during the pandemic. 

During the last lockdown, Sathiyasiva explained that PickMe launched a special hotline service for tourists and essential services, where over 4,000 tourists were able to reach the airport to get home safely. The efforts of PickMe were welcomed by the Tourism Ministry, the Prime Minister, and many others. Currently, PickMe is working to ensure the safety of its driver-partners by helping 1,000-plus get the Covid-19 vaccine in Sri Lanka and carrying out 100-plus random PCR tests. “We even paid our driver-partners for the amount of time that they had to take off work to go and get their vaccines, so they wouldn’t face any shortcomings financially.” On top of all this, Sathiyasiva added that the company has assisted the authorities in setting up temperature-monitoring checkpoints in Colombo, Kandy, and Peradeniya. 

Sathiyasiva described that they can see a good uptake in demand for the “Food”, “Flash”, and “Market” options on the app during times of travel restrictions, adding that they are honoured to have been supporting the nation to move at the time of need.

PickMe temperature checkpoints

Their most recent gesture towards helping people of the country was to offer Rs. 200 off their ride to get the Covid-19 vaccine. This promotion was valid from 15-21 May, and as Sathiyasiva observed, most vaccination centres are very close to one’s home, so the ride was practically free. 

Since travel restrictions are in place, while vaccination programmes are still ongoing, we asked Sathiyasiva what people who don’t have vehicles can do in order to get to their respective vaccination centres. He commented that they are still able to book a PickMe through the app, as they have instructed their drivers to have a chat with the customer about their needs. “We are in operation for emergency travel purposes even during the travel restrictions so the public can travel to hospitals and vaccination centres. We even offer transport to those who are deemed essential workers and are instructed to report to work even during restrictions.” On asking him how such an option came about, he explained that they had implemented a special hotline last lockdown that was flooded with requests from people asking for vehicles for emergency travel like going to the hospital or to work. They saw the need in the market and this time, made the option of booking a vehicle available on the app itself for the customers’ convenience. He also added that not only do they get requests from citizens in Colombo, but also people located in suburban areas like Kurunegala, Kalutara, Kandy, and many more from other areas they cater to. He stated that they have ample driver-partners who are more than willing to work during travel restrictions, so there is no shortage of vehicles. 

The first lockdown hit the hardest, as no one was prepared or saw it coming; over the last few curfews and lockdowns, businesses evolved and found novel ways to cater to the people. We asked Sathiyasiva what PickMe learned from the previous lockdowns, and what changes they made accordingly, to which he responded, saying: “The biggest change we made was enabling essential transport on the app. Other than that, we also understood what groceries and essential household needs were in demand by the public, so this time, we have partnered with over 1,000 vendors, from small-scale businesses to the big names, to meet the needs of everyone.” He explained that even in terms of food, they have partnered with global chains like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and more, and also given a market space for small-scale food businesses in order to support them through trying times, whilst also offering their customers inexpensive options. 

Talking about some of the challenges they faced during the pandemic, Sathiyasiva commented that it was how they could ensure everyone’s safety. “Another problem was making sure the drivers adhered to the Covid regulations, such as the number of passengers allowed, wearing a mask at all times, and sanitising before and after a hire.” After facing a few obstacles and overcoming them, PickMe is now one of the safest options to take a ride at this time. The app supports several forms of digital payments, allowing you and your driver to minimise contact by not exchanging cash. We asked Sathiyasiva what further moves have taken place in order to ensure the safety of their customers, to which he commented that they have placed separators in over 6,000 tuks and approximately 500 tuks have been placed with hand washing units, in partnership with Keells, S-lon, and the Rotary Club of Colombo Metropolitan. “We are working with the Sri Lanka Police to ensure all of our vehicle fleets abide by the regulations put in place. We are committed to continuously communicate this to our customers and drivers regularly on digital and physical touchpoints.” He further explained that they have also launched an in-app driver verification system; if they have a temperature above 37 degree Celsius, they are immediately paused from service and are directed to the local public health inspector (PHI), so a customer would never have to come across a driver that may have Covid. 

In case either a driver or a customer turns out to be Covid positive, PickMe has a natively built pioneering contact tracing technology – that has been in operation since March 2021 – to track down anyone who may have contracted the virus through the first contact. Aside from this, PickMe also implemented a mechanism that sent all their drivers a video by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Covid regulations, as soon as they logged into their app in the morning.