The introduction of the Doha metro has led to cheap, accessible transportation for the public. This new competition has impacted drivers of established ride sharing services. Check out this story to learn about how companies like Uber and some of its riders are adapting and negotiating past these challenges.
A cold breeze blew in the empty streets of Al Rayyan as Uber driver Ibrahim Mohammad appeared seemingly out of nowhere in his white Kia Optima.
It was 11 p.m. but I would not be his last customer for the night.
With the introduction and success of the Doha Metro, taxi drivers like Mohammad are facing longer working hours, shorter trips and lower pay.
The Doha Metro, a rapid transit system that is part of Qatar Rail, has 37 underground stations covering 76 km. Launched last May, the metro’s expansions have pushed its ridership from 37,451 on opening day to 185,000 passengers on Qatar’s National Sport’s Day. On Jan. 15, Qatar Rail welcomed its 10 millionth customer.
“The metro is cheaper. It is only three minutes from my house and I can take the Metrolink,” said Niaz Ahmed, a frequent user of the service. Subway rides cost two riyals with a maximum cost of six riyals per day. Customers can also use Metrolink, a shuttle bus service, for an additional two riyals. If customers are traveling near the Pearl or Westbay, shuttle services are free.
With this level of accessibility, drivers with the ridesharing services Uber and Careem, who saturated the transportation market, face new challenges.
While Uber and Careem offices in Qatar refuse to disclose statistical information specific to Qatar, drivers like Ali Mehammed and Shahalam Rana estimated that there are about 60,000 limousines operating in Doha alone.
“We wait and we don’t get booked,” said Shahalam Rana, an Uber and Careem driver who has worked in Qatar for five years. He said he spends a significant amount of time waiting for the next ride.
The new metro lines also mean that people don’t have to take long taxi rides across Doha.
“There are little long rides. It’s mostly short rides,” said Mohammad. He said he doesn’t get booked if he is near metro stops because people would prefer using free Metrolink services instead.
Mehammed, Rana, Mohammad, and others used to earn anywhere between 250 and 400 riyals per day before the arrival of the metro. They now earn from 150 to 280 riyals. Mehammed attributed this to people’s preference for the subway.
He also said he has seen a decrease in earnings-per-kilometre from Uber and Careem. “Before I used to earn two riyals per km. Now, I earn around one riyal,” he said.
But even this money doesn’t end up in his pocket. Qatar mandates that rideshare drivers obtain sponsorship from a parent limousine company before setting out on the roads of Doha. Drivers also must pay a commission that includes car rent for the limousine company and an additional 25 percent commission to Uber or 18 to 20 percent to Careem, said Ismael Basheer, another taxi driver in Qatar.
For Basheer, after paying the 25 percent Uber commission, he spends 2500 on car rental and loan, 1800 on petrol, 1200 on room and food, 800 on mobile data and service, and 200 on other expenses.
So, drivers are looking for more options.
“I will change my work to Qatar Gas,” said a frustrated Mehammed. “I will give my CV in one month or two months”
But Uber’s Qatar office maintains that it is committed to driver wellbeing.
“We are trying to develop services for our partners including training and personal space where they share grievances,” said Masha Tahrhini, customer service manager from Uber. She said Uber calls its workers “partner drivers” and not just drivers.
Uber is also partnering with Qatar Rail where customers who use Uber near Doha Metro would get a discount.
Apart from Uber, drivers themselves are trying to adapt.
Some drivers like Mohammad – who used to work via rideshare applications for 10 to 15 hours per day – now wait for bookings for 15 to 18 hours per day. Careem allows drivers to continue as long as they like. But Uber prohibits drivers from driving for more than 12 hours daily. Regardless, Mohammad gets around the concern by being on the application for 15+ hours, while actually driving for just 12.
Other drivers are also taking on extra jobs. Mehammed transports two children to school each morning. Basheer is part of Colo, a new ride hailing service of expat drivers, mostly from Kerala, India. According to Basheer, Colo has a lower fare rate than Uber and Careem. It also charges a smaller commission to drivers.
With the continued expansion of the metro and the shifting transportation infrastructure, the future of drivers from these services remains uncertain.
For the safety of interviewees, their first name has been changed.