ABU DHABI // A luxury, chauffeur-driven car service that allows customers to book via a smartphone app is to launch in the capital on Wednesday.
Uber Taxi has been operating in Dubai since September and the company decided to expand the service to the capital due to demand from residents.
As in Dubai, the minimum fare will be Dh35. If the car is travelling at above 18kph the ride will be charged at Dh2.5 per kilometre or, if it is going below that speed, the rate is Dh1.5 per minute.
“We had a soft launch in Abu Dhabi four weeks ago but are officially launching the service on Wednesday,” said Sebastien Wakim, managing director of Uber Taxis in Abu Dhabi.
“We chose Abu Dhabi simply because of the demand. We found that many people here were downloading the app to book a car but, unfortunately, at the time we didn’t have a service.”
The company would not comment on how many cars were in their Abu Dhabi fleet but the number will increase over time, he said.
Initially, the range of cars will include an Audi A6 and BMW 5 and 7 Series, with other luxury vehicles to be added.
To book a car customers have to download the Uber app, which is available for iPhone or Android and some versions of Blackberry.
They must then provide their name, email, mobile phone number and credit card details.
“Once you have booked a car, you can use the app to see how far away it is and what route it is taking,” Mr Wakim said.
“We do our best to keep the estimated time of arrival as low as possible, to between eight to 10 minutes. The fare is charged directly to the customer’s credit card.”
After the journey the customer can rate the driver on a scale of 1 to 5.
“If the driver gets between one and three stars or the passenger didn’t like their journey for whatever reason, they can let us know and we will take action,” Mr Wakim added.
“We make sure anyone applying to become one of our drivers has the relevant qualifications.”
Uber now has a presence in more than 35 cities in 17 countries around the world but has attracted controversy, with some transport regulators in the United States and Canada claiming the company was operating an unlicensed taxi and limousine service.
But the company says it does not own the cars, only the app used to put drivers and customers in touch.
“Everything has been approved by the authorities here to allow us to operate this service,” said Mr Wakim.
“We are a technology company, not a transportation company – we only connect users to RTA licensed drivers for Dubai.”
In future, the company may also consider launching UberX, an equally controversial service, that undercuts normal city cab fares.
Residents have given a cautious welcome to the new service.
“This is a good option to have if you’re going to a business meeting,” said Matthew Smith, from the UK, who lives in Abu Dhabi and sometimes commutes to Dubai.
“Having said that, it does seem pretty expensive, and I don’t think I would use one if I needed to go to Dubai. The normal city taxis are perfectly fine for that.”
For an Indian businessman, who did not wish to be named, it would be a service he would use if normal taxis were not available.
“Rush hour in the morning and after work in the evenings are the worst times to get a taxi, so I would probably use it if I couldn’t get a normal cab,” he said.
Drivers who want to be part of the service should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.