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Controversial Uber taxi app thrives as limousine service in Mideast

Black taxi drivers in London staged protests last week against the introduction of the smart-phone application

Hind Mustafa

Published: Updated:

The taxi smart-phone app, Uber, has come under fire in the UK, but not the Gulf, where the app is being used as a high-end private pick-up service.

Taxi drivers in the UK have complained that the app, which allows people to call taxis, agree a fare, and share rides through their smart phones, could take away a share of their customers. They staged a protests in London last week against the app’s introduction.

But in the UAE, Uber “partners with limousine companies and their drivers licensed by the RTA [Roads and Transport Authority] ,” JP Mondalek, Uber’s general manager in Dubai, told Al Arabiya News on Tuesday.

The RTA regulates public transport, drivers, and privately-owned vehicles in the city.

Besides operating in Dubai, where it launched September 2013, Uber is also available in Abu Dhabi, Doha, Riyadh and Jeddah.

In London, the black-taxi is the only public transport method allowed to operate on meters, and its drivers are not convinced the application’s prices are equivalent to a taximeter.

However in the Middle East, Uber cars charge a higher rate than normal taxis. In Dubai, an Uber ride charges a minimum of 20 dirhams ($5.4), versus the minimum amount of 10 dirhams ($2.7) charged by the common Dubai Taxi vehicles, according to information provided by the company, which added that “there are around 3,000 cars in Dubai.”

Numerous products, selected cities

The different prices charged by Uber in every city are due to the different products offered in each market.

The service packages range from “UberX” – the low-cost option - “typically priced below taxi” which is causing havoc in London, to UberLUX found in New York for the luxury car options. In the Middle East, the most common option is UberBlack – which ranks below UberLUX.

The smart-phone app operates in over 120 cities, across 38 countries around the world.

“We operate under different laws in each city… Our primary objective is to provide a safe a reliable ride, so until we feel confident that we can provide both of these things at the same time, we’re not going to prematurely launch a product just because a sister city may have it,” Mondalek said.

See below a full list of Uber's service packages:

Pay for safety

According to its general manager, Uber in Dubai allows for great transparency and security for travelers on the road.

“In Dubai we have one product, at the moment it’s called UberBLACK, which is a limousine product,” Mondalek said.

With every available car, “you have information on who your driver is, their name, plate number… everything is tracked [and] regulated,” he added.

Public taxis are not commonly used in Saudi Arabia –especially by women, as they generally rank low in terms of cleanliness and safety, according to individuals questioned by Al Arabiya News. This could be why Uber has found an eager market for the product.