Uber-Style App ‘Careem’ Serves Palestinians in Yehudah and Shomron

RAMALLAH (Reuters) -
An employee shows the logo of ride-hailing company Careem on his mobile in his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (Reuters/Mohamad Torokman)

Careem, a Middle Eastern rival to Uber, has become the first ride-hailing firm to operate in Yehudah and Shomron.

Dubai-based Careem, whose name is a play on the Arabic word for generous or noble, launched in Ramallah in June, aiming to bring digital simplicity to the Palestinian population.

There is certainly a market for easier ride-hailing among the nearly 3 million Palestinians living in Yehudah and Shomron, but the fact that the mobile network is still 2G, that electronic payments are not the norm and that Israeli checkpoints are common make using the service somewhat cumbersome.

Yet Careem is optimistic about the potential.

“We are planning to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars within the coming year in the (Palestinian) sector,” Kareem Zinaty, operations manager for the Levant region, said. “After the investment, it is also an opportunity to create jobs.”

Careem — which launched in 2012 and now operates in 12 countries and more than 80 cities across the Middle East, Africa and South Asia — has said it aims to provide work for one million people across the region by 2018.

While a version of Uber and Israeli app Gett already operate in Israel, they do not venture into Palestinian areas. Drivers are excited to work with Careem, which they hope will help boost their incomes, especially with unemployment in Yehudah and Shomron running at nearly 20 percent.

“It’s a very wonderful opportunity,” said one of the more than 100 new drivers, known as “captains” by Careem. “Most of the people who use it are young and happy with the price.”

Palestinians have limited self rule in parts of Yehudah and Shomron, which they want for a future state alongside Eastern Yerushalayim and the Gaza Strip.

Under interim peace accords, Israel still controls 60 percent of Yehuah and Shomron, where most of its settlements are located. Careem’s drivers have Palestinian license plates, meaning they usually cannot enter Israeli-controlled areas.

In 2015, Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed to expand 3G mobile access to Yehudah and Shomron by 2016, but have yet to implement the agreement. In the meantime, the Ramallah municipality has set up public Wifi in parts of the city centre, allowing Apps like Careem to be used more easily.

Despite 2G’s slower service, Zinaty said their model was an opportunity for telecommunication companies to look into expanding services and technologies to better serve Palestinian startups and businesses.