By Neil Halligan
Taxi firm is growing in popularity in Gulf kingdom since introduction of cash option for drivers
Uber is growing in popularity in Saudi Arabia, particularly since the technology firm introduced a cash option for its drivers.
Credit cards has been the only method of payments for the Uber taxi service in most markets that it has operated, but in certain markets around the world, it has introduced cash as a payment option.
India (26 cities), Kenya (Nairobi), Egypt (Cairo), Vietnam (Hanoi), Indonesia (Bandung) and Philippines (Manila) all have the cash option, as does Saudi Arabia in the cities and areas it operates in: Riyadh, Jeddah, Eastern Province and Mecca-Medinah, which launched about a month ago.
“Since the launch of cash, the majority of our signups now use cash in Saudi Arabia,” Majed Abukhater, Uber general manager for Saudi Arabia.
“The proportion of riders who use cash continue to grow and represents a higher proportion of our overall trips. Having said that, riders who prefer the cash payment option also ride as much as credit card users and they rate their Uber experience just as highly as credit card users,” he added.
Abukhater said they will assess its operation in markets that it’s currently available before considering expanding it to other countries in the future.
“There are no immediate plans to launch the cash payment option in other parts of the GCC anytime soon. We want to take our time and ensure this is an efficient process for everyone before making cash available to all our riders in other cities in which we operate in,” he said.
The other big standout statistic for Uber in Saudi Arabia is that 70-80% of riders are women.
“Relative to other options out there, they (women) kind of understand Uber's reliability and safety. They can see the name of the driver, their picture, their rating and so they know exactly what kind of a car they're getting into, and it's trackable,” Abukhater said.
“We know that a lot of people use the 'share my eta option', which allows you to send a 'trip link' to a friend or family member that can see the trip happening and track the trip. The fact that we're safe and reliable relative to other options is why a lot of women use Uber almost daily.”
The highest proportion of weekday trips in Saudi Arabia, compared to other cities and top locations, are the large universities. The proportion of trips during the weekday, is also much higher in Saudi than it is anywhere around the world.
Uber’s recent launch in Mecca-Medinah will be its last for a while, with no plans to expand to any other city or region in the kingdom in the near future. Abukhater said the Mecca-Medinah operations will offer the company plenty of scope to expand over the coming year.
“We initially launched for Umrah in Ramadan a specific Jeddah to Mecca service, for that entire month of Ramadan. It was really successful, especially with tourists coming from around the world. They used Uber because they used it elsewhere. From that we saw there was a lot of potential to permanently launched Mecca-Medinah,” said Abukhater.
Uber does not own any cars or employ driver, but provides existing transport companies in any city they go to with the opportunity to get online with Uber through its app and earn supplementary income through Uber customers.
There has been criticism in some cities in the kingdom about companies that use Uber’s technology not being regulated with the transport authorities. Abukhater insisted, however, that any dealings that Uber has had with officials has been constructive.
“In no place around the world have we employed drivers or bought vehicles. We do engage with the regulators. We have had some very interesting discussions and we found them to be super-ambitious and really welcoming the technology. It has been extremely positive,” he said.
Uber offers the standard Uber X in all cities and regions, with the more luxurious Uber Black and the 4x4 UberXL offered in Jeddah and Riyadh.
The recent Abu Dhabi Grand Prix saw the company launch an Uber Chopper service from Dubai, which has now been developed into a tourist trip around the city. Abukhater said while there are no plans to launch it in Saudi Arabia in the near future, Uber would consider something similar should the chance arise.
“That was a great for us in Dubai. It was really amazing. We’re always open to opportunities like that in Saudi, if there's a big event that we partner up with and do that, we wouldn't say no,” he said.
The top 5 cities that Saudis use Uber outside of KSA, ranked in order, are:
1. Los Angeles
5. Washington DC