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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Careem's Saudi expansion could be impacted by lifting of driving ban

Ride-sharing app available in over 50 cities in the kingdom

Careem said to mull 14-country roll-out of new bus service. Victor Besa / The National
Careem said to mull 14-country roll-out of new bus service. Victor Besa / The National

The decision by Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive in the country could impact the Dubai-based ride hailing app Careem, which said in July it was planning a major push in the kingdom to target nearly 3 million women that cannot drive and had no means of transport outside of their immediate family.

Saudi Arabia is one of the largest markets for Careem, one of the Middle East's most successful tech start-ups, which offers services in more than 50 cities across the kingdom. Much of the company's success in the country comes from providing private transport for women.

In July, the co-founder Mudassir Sheikha told The National how he aimed to expand in Saudi Arabia to take advantage of the fact that women were not allowed to drive.

“There are 2.7 million women in Saudi that are not working today because they don’t have a reliable means of transport to go to work," he said, referencing figures from the Saudi authorities.

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"So these are all trips and mobility that needs to be provided - but it’s not there so it’s not happening."

With the lifting of the ban on women drivers, due to come into effect next June, Careem may find that much of the demand for its services will disappear.

The company was at pains yesterday to emphasise its support for the government's decision.

“Careem welcomes the decree by Saudi Arabia that will enable women to obtain driving licences," Abdulla Elyas, the co-founder of the firm, told The National.

"The announcement is fully aligned with Careem’s mission to improve lives and create jobs. In Saudi Arabia, we have had the privilege to enable employment for thousands of women by providing them a reliable means to get to work."

Fellow ride-sharing app Uber put on a similarly brave face on Wednesday.

“This is a historic moment for Saudi Arabia. We're proud to have been able to provide extraordinary mobility for women in Saudi, and are excited by the economic opportunities this change could represent for them in the future,” a spokeswoman said.

Of course, with women being able to drive, new employment opportunities will arise - and ride-hailing firms such as Careem could, in fact, benefit.

While the lifting of the ban will empower Saudi women, the company said yesterday its existing efforts have already provided a boost for females in the workforce.

"We have ... established a female-only call centre that has created hundreds of opportunities for women," pointed out Mr Elyas.

"We believe the decree will facilitate further job creation and economic opportunities for the country, and look forward to working closely with the authorities and the broader Saudi society to support the planning and implementation of the decree.”