With Uber 's entrance into the Middle Eastern market, local taxi companies have felt the threat of new competition. However, Uber isn't the only taxi app available within the region. Services, watch out.
Careem, a taxi app originally launched in the United Arab Emirates, has grown substantially since its inception in 2012, recently receiving $10 million in a second round of funding in December 2014. Careem can now be utilized in 12 regional cities including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Riyadh, Dammam, Jeddah, Manama, Beirut, Cairo, Casablanca and the recently added, Kuwait City . The service is also available in Lahore, Pakistan.
Although San Francisco, California-based Uber, which launched in 2009, has larger global presence, the service trails behind Careem within the region. Currently Uber operates in 10 regional cities including Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Dubai, Cairo, Dammam, Doha, Istanbul, Jeddah, Riyadh, and Manama, versus Careem's 12.
Both apps work essentially the same way. Via your smartphone you download the app, input credit card information or connect the application to PayPal, and start riding. When you need a cab, simply send out a call through the app and the driver will note your location through the GPS and map, or you can select a specific point to meet. The charge is based on both distance and time, like a taxi meter, and a receipt will be sent to your email once the journey is over, charging your credit card. Drivers are also subject to users' ratings, so if you recieve bad service there is, in theory, more accountability than with a taxi off the street.
Although both Uber and Careem are often more expensive than traditional taxi services, the convenience is what draws and builds their customer base. They focus on quality customer service and an easier experience for users in order to keep their riders returning.
Careem was created by Swedish Magnus Olsson and Pakistani Mudassir Sheikha. The word 'kareem' in Arabic means generous, and since they were creating a taxi app, the pair thought switching the first letter to a 'C' would make for a clever name.
Although 'generous' may sound like a friendly name, don't be fooled. In November reports suggested that the competition between Careem and international rival Uber may have become somewhat aggressive. Uber was accused of "poaching" Careem drivers.
An Uber representative told Al Arabiya that while the company booked rides with Careem drivers in order to inform them about Uber, the intention was to give the drivers more options.
"The fundamental premise that the drivers are Careem’s drivers is one that I would disagree with," Jambu Palaniappan, Uber's general manager in the Middle East, told Al Arabiya. “These are drivers that work for limousine and taxi companies across Middle Eastern markets. For us, it’s about giving those drivers and companies an option.”
Careem responded by calling the tactic "aggressive" but "fair game."
"We definitely see them competing. And that’s all fine and it’s really to the benefit of customers," Olsson said to Al Arabiya.
With Careem expanding and Uber following right behind, Easy Taxi – a taxi app originally created in Brazil – may also be feeling the heat of the regional competition with users in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt and Kuwait. Although Easy Taxi still utilizes the same GPS and map technology to conveniently and efficiently connect users with the nearest driver, the app works more like a calling service and payments are made directly to the drivers.
As for us, we hope Olsson is correct and that the competition will benefit us, the consumers. As these companies endeavor to meet users' needs in a region with often less than ideal public transportation, we only can hope the service will improve even more.