In Saudi Arabia, Uber appears to be a force for good
No other organisation - public or private - has done more to address women's mobility in the Kingdom
Controversial taxi-hailing company Uber may get its fair share of criticism around the world, but in the Middle East it is overwhelmingly being painted as a force for good. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Saudi Arabia, where the company is providing untold levels of mobility to the country's women.
As is well documented, Saudi women are not allowed to own a driving licence, meaning they have to rely on private drivers and taxis to get around. This is a problem when taxi and limo companies are fully booked, or simply do not respond to call-outs. Uber is changing that, however, and the Kingdom's women have wasted no time in capitalising on the benefits that the app provides.
In a recent interview with Fast Company, Uber's general manager for Saudi Arabia, Majed Abukhater, estimated that 70% to 90% of Uber riders in the Kingdom are women.
"A lot of them, I would say, are young women. We have some data to show that these women are starting to rely on Uber a lot more for their daily commutes; the proportion of trips that we see in Saudi during the weekday is actually very high relative to other locations," he told the outlet.
"That's just kind of one indicator to tell us that women are really starting to rely on Uber for their daily commutes to work, or to school, or to university."
The company currently operates in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam.
Abukhater told Fast Company that Uber's popularity among women in Saudi Arabia is down to the fact that limo companies traditionally made customers wait for around half-an-hour before being picked up. Or worse, he said, the companies would be fully booked. With Uber, though, he said that women can simply open the app and be picked up within minutes.
Uber hasn't ignored the signs that it seems to be popular among women in the Kingdom. In December, it will co-sponsor a breast cancer awareness event called 10KSA, organised by Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud. The event hopes to bring together 10,000 women - which would be a first in Saudi history. And Princess Reema has urged Uber to make up to 2,000 cars available on the day to help ferry women to and from the event.
Uber may not solve the problem of women being unable to drive in Saudi - a problem that unfortunately looks unlikely to be fixed soon. But the ride-sharing app is at least helping to treat the symptom of immobility among Saudi women, a feat that other organisations - both public and private - have so far been unable to achieve.