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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Dubai's frustrated commuters look to scooters to beat the traffic

Hire companies say long delays in traffic jams has led to a rapid rise in demand

Vilhelm Hedberg, CEO of smart car hire company ekar, has 350 vehicles in Dubai.
Vilhelm Hedberg, CEO of smart car hire company ekar, has 350 vehicles in Dubai.

Transport startups in the UAE are cashing in on a public increasingly frustrated by heavy rush hour traffic.

App-based companies which provide car sharing services or bicycle and scooter hire are on the rise, particularly in Dubai.

Firms say they are responding to a hike in demand for alternative modes of travel, especially from commuters wanting to make short journeys.

The result is more people turning to dockless transport options - where bikes and scooters can be hired for brief periods and left at a user’s destination.

“The Middle East is generally untouched compared to other parts of the world when it comes to dockless transportation,” said Ammr Shaladi, whose company Qwikly recently announced the launch of an electric scooter service.

“This is a business model that is quite common in other continents across the world.”

Dockless transport systems have become ubiquitous in many cities over recent years.

They work by relying on a combination of GPS and cellular connectivity to track the vehicle being rented and charging users by the minute.

At the end of each journey, the vehicle is automatically immobilised – to be unlocked by a code sent to the next user via an app on their phones.

Today, some 18 million dockless hire bicycles are now thought to be available to customers in more than 1,600 cities.

In China alone, more than 40 bicycle-sharing companies have begun operations in the last two years. One, Ofo, has already made profits of $1.2 billion (Dh 44bn).

Last week, Californian-based firm Qwikly launched its scooter rental scheme in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

The firm, which also has plans to expand into the Philippines, Korea and Japan, is set to distribute 75 scooters at various locations in the two emirates over coming days, including 25 on Abu Dhabi’s Corniche.

“This scheme is primarily for people who want to get from their home or office to the metro station,” said Mr Shaladi, 39.

“People spend a lot of time in taxis to make short trips whereas it may only take a few minutes by scooter. You can use scooters on the sidewalk and save time.

“We are talking about someone being able to save time on a 20-minute walk by taking a scooter and covering the same distance in six minutes.

“The majority of people using this service will be looking to make a two to three-mile journey.”

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Read more:

Udrive pay-per-minute car rentals comes to Abu Dhabi

How the sharing economy has inspired a new type of car hire company

Reinventing renting: Testing out short-term car-rental apps ekar and Udrive

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Another UAE firm offering transport for hire via an online app is ekar.

It has 350 cars available to users in Dubai and a further 150 across the rest of the emirates.

Since launching two years ago, its app has been downloaded 100,000 times and each of its vehicles is used, on average, by six different users a day.

“If it’s too hot outside or if you're feeling a bit lazy, you can always book a 'door delivery' via our app,” said CEO Vilhelm Hedberg, describing how customers can request a vehicle be delivered to them.

He added that the company also helped with the perennial problem of trying to find a parking space on Dubai’s busy streets.

“Studies have shown that the average owned car is only driven five per cent of the time,” said the 35-year-old Norwegian.

“This means each car is taking up space on the streets and wasting its potential 95 per cent of the time.”

Vilhelm Hedberg, CEO of smart car hire company ekar, has 350 vehicles in Dubai.
Vilhelm Hedberg, CEO of smart car hire company ekar, has 350 vehicles in Dubai.

The ekar app allows users to locate, book, unlock and drive vehicles for as long as they want before parking them wherever they choose.

The cost of using the service starts at just Dh0.6 per minute, offering customers a “unique experience at a fraction of the cost of ride-hailing options”, Mr Hedberg said.

One of the biggest problems faced by dockless operators as they fight for market share in cities has been the issue of vandalism and theft.

Earlier this year, bike rental firm Mobike was forced to withdraw from Manchester, England, because of losses incurred by the deliberate mistreatment of its bicycles, as well as complaints of anti-social use.

In the UAE, however, Mr Shaladi said this was not something the company saw as becoming a problem.

“People know they are expected to behave in a certain way in the UAE,” he said. “I’m confident there won’t be problems with that.”