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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Uber and Careem's proposed Emirati-driven fleets are a good start to the journey

The move is a carefully signposted road to the gig economy

Uber has resumed its service in the UAE capital. AFP
Uber has resumed its service in the UAE capital. AFP

Not long ago, hailing a taxi in any of the world’s major cities required a mix of luck and steely determination.

These days, thanks to the advent of “ride-sharing” platforms such as Uber, which resumed its operations in Abu Dhabi yesterday, all it takes is the tap of a phone screen. In fact, there now appears to be few jobs which cannot be fulfilled via the internet.

Widely known as the gig economy, this modern form of piece-rate working is often said to provide a limitless pool of skills and expertise to service users and a welcome and flexible boost to the income of service providers. The reality is more complex.

From accusations of AirBnB hollowing out neighbourhoods in Barcelona and San Francisco to British legal challenges to the employment terms offered by courier companies, many also believe it represents the free market gone mad.

Now, across Europe and the US, there is much debate as to how governments and local authorities can curb the worst excesses of hyper-casualisation while retaining its many benefits.

Rather than allow disruptive technology platforms to run amok and then figure out ways to fix the problems, the UAE has chosen to regulate first and then gradually relax restrictions.

This can be observed in the evolution of the Airbnb market in Dubai, and now in Abu Dhabi’s relationship with Uber and Careem.

Previously, only registered taxi drivers could work for Careem in the capital, while Uber has not been visible in the capital for the past two years. Private cars also had to charge significantly higher fees to avoid undercutting official taxis.

Now Uber and Careem have announced new fleets driven by Emiratis, and car-owning citizens have the green light to offer their services at the same price as silver cabs.

It is hoped this will provide new opportunities for Emiratis and enhance the experience of visitors, giving an immediate introduction to traditional hospitality and culture.

Most importantly, these measures will also allow the UAE to map out its own clearly signposted route into the gig economy.