In Saudi Arabia, Where Women Can't Legally Drive, Uber Is a Hit

In Saudi Arabia, the only country in the world where women legally aren’t allowed to drive, Uber is a godsend. The app, which pairs drivers with passengers, has proved itself quite useful to ladies who were previously unable to get around town without their husband or a male family member at the wheel. But it's far from a cure-all.

While Uber stands to profit off a culture in which half of the population is forced to rely on a driver, the company told Al Jazeera its app could empower women. “Choice is a beautiful thing, and that is especially true for those women who currently have limited access to reliable transportation options,” Uber said. Riyadh does not have a public transportation system.

Uber just entered the Saudi market this week. Madeha al-Ajroush, an activist for women behind the wheel, says the technology is cool, but she adds that if you live outside of the city, Uber can’t, and won’t, save you.

“It’s still very costly,” she added, with rides starting at about $5, which have the potential of becoming more expensive when demand is high. Uber's algorithm adjusts the price, depending on factors of supply and demand. And of course, “you’re still under the mercy of finding a car,” Ajroush added.

Surge pricing is dicey but in some circles, utilizing a driving service is unilaterally bad form. While riding in cars with strangers is pretty normal in cities like London or New York, hailing or booking a car is seen as dangerous in Saudi Arabia because the driver, endorsed by Uber or not, is still “not safe.”

But Uber says it is handling that wrinkle by providing extensive information on their drivers, including head shots and plate numbers, presumably so if anything happens people know who to rough up.

Image via Uber.