- Title: Saudi embrace of ride-hailing apps drives economic, social change
- Date: 8th January 2017
- Summary: RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA (DECEMBER 29, 2016) (REUTERS) UBER DRIVER CALLING RIDER
- Embargoed: 23rd January 2017 12:50
- Keywords: Saudi women taxi apps Uber Careem driver cab
- Location: RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA / DUBAI, UAE
- City: RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA / DUBAI, UAE
- Country: Saudi Arabia
- Topics: Living/Lifestyle,Society/Social Issues
- Reuters ID: LVA0065Y7YIC5
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: For Saudi women, who are not allowed to drive, there is a new alternative to get around the city when they don't have a male relative around, or if they can't afford a chauffeur.
Ride-hailing apps Uber and Dubai-based rival Careem are not only driving social change in the conservative country, but also offering employment to Saudi men.
Riyadh resident Lamya Naser is among those using these apps.
"As women in Saudi Arabia, we are not allowed to drive and we do not have enough money to bring a car with driver. The Careem app has resolved all these problems," Naser said.
"We are employees. We need this service, we need the fastest transport, it is convenient by mobile phone, we order, wait for few minutes, the car arrives. Honestly it is something comfortable," said another Saudi woman, Raya al-Dosseri.
Saudi Arabia hopes the apps will boost its plan to bring a further 1.3 million women into the workforce by 2030.
The government says the car should only be driven by Saudi men. The service offers women an alternative to being driven to work by chauffeurs, male relatives or the shabby taxi system.
Saudi Arabia has courted Uber and Careem, offering state investments, to support its Vision 2030 economic reform plan, which aims to draw workers away from government jobs by creating 450,000 private sector positions by 2020.
Uber and Careem say they will create up to 200,000 jobs for Saudi men in the next two years.
By offering women a way to get to work, it should also help meet the plan's goal of increasing the female workforce.
The workforce of Uber and Careem is easily expected to overtake the 65,000 nationals employed by state oil giant Saudi Aramco.
Saudi's sovereign wealth fund put $3.5 billion into Uber in June 2016, while state-controlled Saudi Telecom Co said last month that it has bought 10 percent of Careem for $100 million.
Women already account for around 80 percent of Uber and Careem's passengers, the companies say.
"More than 80 percent of the riders in Saudi are women that take Uber to go either to education or workforce or maybe start up their own company. I think there is a very big appetite for women to actually use Uber in Saudi to move around and we've managed to provide a service that is really needed," said Zeid Hreish, the Managing Director for Uber, Saudi Arabia.
A personal driver offers the most cache for middle- and upper-class women, but not everyone can afford a chauffeur.
Some wealthier women do not use the existing taxi system because it is not considered acceptable for them to travel in the older vehicles that are often provided.
Uber and Careem offer an alternative because they require their drivers to use cars that are less than three years old.
The use of the app for booking a car also allows a passenger to select a particular driver and some believe that the use of smart phone technology brings a better class of driver.
The high female engagement with such apps also reflects how social attitudes are evolving in the conservative kingdom.
The state investment is partly aimed at bolstering local employment.
The Ministry of Transportation has said Uber and Careem must "limit the jobs to Saudi nationals", although legal non-Saudi drivers may continue to work for the companies.
Careem co-founder Abdulla Elyas said his company has already made the changes.
"Within this year, our whole supply changed. The number of cars and the number of captains who are actually Saudis changed from being zero percent to 60 percent today, so 60 percent already today of our whole fleet is Saudized," he said.
Working for a globally-recognised company such as Uber is a draw for tech-savvy Saudis, helping some overcome the stigma of being a driver.
"Uber's biggest advantage is that it gives you the opportunity to work on your own car and to be your own boss. You can control the time you want to work," said Uber driver Ibrahim al-Yousifi, a college student.
"I don't see the work at Careem as an embarrassment. On the contrary, is a source of income for me and a service that benefits people when I transport them and above all, the Careem service is safe and secure," said medical graduate Assaf al-Obaibi.
Despite this, both Careem and Uber say most drivers work part-time, alongside government jobs.
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