Ride-hailing apps are already popular with women in Saudi Arabia who, unable to drive until the ban is lifted, have to rely on being driven around by male relatives or using taxi services. But by taking on women drivers, Careem appears to be attempting to differentiate itself and localize its product.
Uber, which operates in 18 Saudi cities, also announced in early October that it also intended to set up a specialized training center for women that want to work for the company, stating that 80 percent of the users of its ride-hailing app are women, Al Arabiya reported.
Ironically, women being able to drive could damage the ride-hailing app business.
One poll by Kantar TNS asked 217 female Saudi residents and 299 male residents to give their opinions on the royal decree in late September. The results showed that 82 percent of women planned to get a driving license once the ban was lifted and that 92 percent of women said that they would reduce their reliance on taxis and services like Careem and Uber. The poll also showed that 61 percent saw the decree as a positive step for society, 55 percent felt a sense of empowerment from the decision and 46 percent expected better career opportunities.
With Saudi women on the cusp of a newfound freedom and the potential challenges it could bring to the business, Careem co-founder Abdulla Elyas told CNBC that the mixture of cultural reform and technology was changing society.
“What we’re seeing these days, especially with car hailing and women driving in Saudi Arabia, with so many Saudi captains doing car hailing on a day-to-day basis is really transforming what we’re seeing on the ground in all our cities,” he said.
For some, being on the road will be life changing. Careem trainer Raniem Al-Lahham said that come June 2018, she will be overjoyed at being on the road. “It feels so independent, it feels so free and I feel so proud that I’ll be driving in Saudi Arabia as a woman.”