As the new year begins, ride-hailing apps Uber and Careem have started recruiting female drivers. Preparations to get women into the driver’s seat have been in the works for both companies following last September’s announcement that the decades-old ban on female motorists in the Kingdom would finally been lifted. This groundbreaking royal decree comes as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, a national strategy that aims at diversifying the Kingdom’s current oil-dependent economy.
American-based Uber and Dubai-based Careem are favorites of women across the Kingdom, as they offer a chance at greater autonomy for those who could not afford private drivers during the period of the ban. Female customers currently represent 80 percent of Uber's Saudi rider base and 70 percent of business for Careem, according to a recent article by CNN.
Mudassir Sheikha, founder of Careem, told the Los Angeles Times in 2015, that, “[t]here are some [women] that take five to 10 trips with us every day,” a usage frequency the company has not seen anywhere else. Therefore, this push for recruitment is being welcomed by many Saudi women who may be conservative or just feel more comfortable with a female driver.
In preparation for a new social climate that will see more women take to the roads, Uber is currently working on setting up “one-stop-shop” facilities to accelerate the recruitment process. According to Zeid Hreish, Uber's general manager in Saudi Arabia, the company plans to “partner up with necessary stakeholders to facilitate the paperwork, training access, and access to vehicles, including access to driving schools run by third party partners."
Hreish also explained that Uber has launched "listening sessions" for women in Riyadh, aimed at "shaping the company's priorities and upcoming plans for women in the Kingdom," and which have addressed topics such as problems women could face when driving.
Following the new decree, Careem has launched a series of 90-minute sessions in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Al Khobar, targeting Saudi women with valid driving licenses acquired while abroad. Those who complete the training sessions receive a certificate that acts as a guarantee that they have officially joined Careem's team.
Abdullah Elyas, co-founder and chief privacy officer at Careem, explained to CNN that the company has already received thousands of applications from Saudi women interested in becoming drivers, and that the company plans to hire more than 10,000 “female captains” (drivers) by June.
"Female captains will help us provide a better service to many women who want to travel but refuse to be driven by men […] This means that a new segment of Saudi society that does not use our services will begin (to use it) next June,” he explained.