San Francisco-based Uber — a smartphone app that connects passengers with cars for hire — officially launches in the Saudi capital Riyadh today after three months of beta testing, entering a new market with some unique opportunities.
Saudi Arabia is a country with virtually no public transport and where half of the population — women — is not allowed to drive. Many of the regular cabs available in big cities are in poor conditions, with broken meters and foreign drivers who cannot read street signs written in Arabic.
- A woman boarding a taxi in Riyadh. Many of the regular cabs available in big Saudi cities are in poor condition.
- Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Karim Khattar, Uber’s general manager in the country, says the testing period in Riyadh has been better than expected. A few weeks ago they also started testing the service in the coastal city of Jeddah.
Uber, which was founded in 2009 and last August raised $258 million from Google Ventures and other investors, is not the only company to see potential here. Similar apps like Dubai-based Careem and Brazilian Easy Taxi have also begun offering their services in Saudi Arabia over the last few months.
The on-demand ride services usually work like this: After users download the free app on their smartphones, they can register for the service entering their personal information and credit card number. Once it is set up, users can see their location on a map that also shows available cars nearby with an estimated time of arrival.
The user then can tap on the screen to order a car. If the order is accepted, the person can see the car moving on the map until it arrives. After the user reaches the destination – he or she can leave the car immediately without money changing hands with the driver, as the fare of the trip will be automatically charged to the credit card.
Uber has experienced a rapid growth in recent months, and the service is now available in 100 cities around the world, up from 42 cities last September when they had their regional launch in neighboring Dubai. But the quick growth didn’t come without pain: the company faced protests by taxi drivers in cities like Paris and London, and new competitors continue to crowd the space.
But Mr. Khattar said they are not worried. “Each player has its own place in the market, he said. “There are different players and everyone finds their own niche.”
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(via WSJ Blogs)