Uber launches on the traffic-choked streets of Cairo

Uber said its prices on average were 10 to 15 per cent lower than regulated metered taxis, whose prices start at 3 Egyptian pounds.
The San Francisco-based company has opened offices in 54 countries, including the UAE and India. Above, a subscriber in Madrid using Uber. Sergio Perez / Reuters
The San Francisco-based company has opened offices in 54 countries, including the UAE and India. Above, a subscriber in Madrid using Uber. Sergio Perez / Reuters

The smartphone transport app and taxi company Uber officially launched in Cairo yesterday to bridge the city’s fragmented transport sector.

“There was a huge clamouring for this type of service,” said Jambu Palaniappan, Uber’s regional general manager for the Middle East and Africa.

Uber said its prices on average were 10 to 15 per cent lower than regulated metered taxis, whose prices start at 3 Egyptian pounds (Dh1.4).

The San Francisco-based company has opened offices in 54 countries, including the UAE and India. Testing in Cairo began in November, and Mr Palaniappan said the number of people who had shown interest in or downloaded the app, was “in the thousands”.

Uber has partnered with fully licensed limousine companies, which also include tourism firms, that comply with local regulations.

Abdellatif Waked, Uber’s operations manager in Cairo, said a low supply of drivers in the city was similar to what the company had found elsewhere in the Middle East. High demand for the app’s service, however, was similar to India, he added.

The app can be downloaded in Android and iOS formats. It uses GPS to show the nearest Uber car available and gives an estimated time of arrival that updates as the car approaches.

The popularity of social media has helped to spread the word about Uber in Cairo.

Dr Ahmed El Meniawy, a 36-year-old dentist from the Heliopolis neighbourhood, said he had a couple of friends share screenshots while using an Uber car.

“So many people rave about it, but I’m not sure how often I’ll use it,” he said.

The Greater Cairo area has more than 19 million people and is expected to increase to 24 million by 2027, according to the World Bank.

Congestion on streets is a constant for the city’s residents.

The World Bank says that traffic volume ranges from 3,000 to 7,000 vehicles an hour per lane on major corridors with local streets totalling 1,000 to 4,000 vehicles an hour per lane.

But Uber executives were confident that drivers would be able to pick up passengers within minutes of the request.

Mr Palaniappan said that two weeks after the launch, the average pickup time had dropped to seven minutes from an initial 10 minutes.

Mr El Meniawy said that a seven-minute pickup time was hard to believe. “What dream world do they live in?” he said, adding that he would still download the app and give it a try.”

lgraves@thenational.ae

* with additional reporting by Jahd Khalil in Cairo

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Published: February 10, 2015 04:00 AM

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