Uber suspends UberTaxi service in Saudi Arabia amid virus control efforts

The move comes after the Ministry of Interior stopped all domestic flights, buses, taxis and train services for 14 days from Saturday

A Saudi woman speaks with a taxi driver to get a ride in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser
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Uber has suspended the option to book local taxi services in Saudi Arabia, in line with precautionary measures taken by the Ministry of Interior to limit the spread of the coronavirus in the country.

On Friday, Saudi Arabia said it would suspend all domestic flights, buses, taxis and train services, with only a few exceptions, for 14 days beginning Saturday. The country has 344 confirmed coronavirus cases with eight patients recovering from the infection.

"As per the latest measures announced by the Ministry of Interior to fight the spread of the coronavirus, we are suspending the UberTaxi offering in the kingdom until further notice," an Uber spokesperson told The National.

The measures exclude private cars on ride-sharing apps. All other options on the Uber app, including UberX, UberComfort and Uber Eats, "remain available for essential travel and delivery", Uber said on Saturday.

The Saudi government's new measures exclude flights related to humanitarian assistance and medical evacuation, as well as private aviation. Buses of government agencies, public or private health facilities, and commercial establishments transporting employees are also exempt from restrictions. Saudi Arabia has taken increasingly stringent measures to control the spread of the coronavirus, like many other countries around the world. Earlier this month, the kingdom postponed sports competitions, closed schools and universities and imposed travel restrictions. The government has closed all shopping malls, restaurants and public parks, with the exception of pharmacies and supermarkets.

Ride-hailing services have taken a hit globally either because of government-imposed home quarantines or self-imposed social distancing

Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi told investors on Thursday that number of rides had tumbled by 60 to 70 per cent in virus-hit areas such as Seattle in the US. Hong Kong, which experienced the coronavirus outbreak before the US and Europe, saw trips fall 45 per cent and is still 30 per cent off of its peak. 

“Every city is going to be different,” Mr Khosrowshahi said.

Uber and Lyft have suspended shared rides on their platforms in the US and Canada. They have also temporarily halted hiring new drivers due to dwindling demand.

The companies have set up funds to pay drivers diagnosed with Covid-19 or put under individual quarantine by a public health agency.