NASHMIAH Alenzy, a doctor in Saudi Arabia’s conservative Qassim region, uses ride-hailing apps at least two or three times a week, and sometimes every day, to get to work or to run errands. Before she started using these apps last year, every journey needed to be planned well in advance as she negotiated getting a lift with her husband, her brother, or a private driver.
Barred from driving in a country with non-existent public transport, Saudi women are a profitable prospect for ride-hailing companies. Careem, a firm valued at $1bn that is based in Dubai and operates across the Middle East, north Africa and South Asia, set up shop in 2013. Uber followed in 2014. Both see the Saudi market as one of the most lucrative in the region. Around four-fifths of their respective customers are women.
Both firms are directly backed by the Saudi state. In response to falling oil revenues, the government’s “Vision 2030” programme seeks to diversify its sources of income. In June last year its sovereign-wealth fund ploughed $3.5bn into Uber; and in December Saudi Telecom, which is controlled by the same fund, took a 10% stake in…Continue reading