For anyone that lives in Dubai, you know that traffic can often be a nightmare. Whether you’re brave enough to drive through the bowels of JBR on a weekend, or navigate the labyrinth that is Al Barsha, sometimes driving in the city can be quite insane. Of course, there’s always the many joys of public transport such as the Metro, Buses, or even a taxi, but sometimes these aren’t always within reach- how many times have you been stranded after a concert?
So for anyone who’s looking for a more personalized way to get around the city, there is a solution. Careem and Uber are two private car services that let you hire a car using their dedicated apps or website, and within minutes a chauffeur-driven luxury car will pick you up and whisk you to your destination. I had an event to attend this past weekend, so I decided that rather trotting out in my beloved Tiida, I would give both Careem and Uber a run for their money, with Careem taking me to my destination and Uber taking me back home. My journey would take me from my home in Al Reem 1 in Arabian Ranches to the MAKE Business Hub at the Al Fattan Towers in Dubai Marina and back.
Both Careem and Uber offer apps for iOS and Android, which allows you to quickly summon a car to your current location. I fired up Careem’s app and hit the ‘New Ride’ button to order my ride. The app recommended a number of nearby streets and locations to choose from, or you can simply scroll to the bottom and type in your exact location instead. You can also enter pickup notes, such as describing exactly where your location is if it’s hard to find it on the map, or maybe specifying if you have luggage or boxes etc. After confirming where I wanted to be picked up from, the app then asked me to specify where I wanted to be dropped off, and I was able to specify Al Fattan Towers as my dropoff point. The app then showed me how much the trip would cost, my method of payment, as well as any additional notes that I wanted to give the driver. I tapped the “Go Careem!” button and a few minutes later I got a confirmation from the customer service centre that the car had been confirmed and would be on its way – this was at 4.13pm. At 4.41pm I got another SMS saying that the driver was waiting outside, and sure enough I could see from my bedroom window that the car was parked and waiting in my driveway. You also get sent the driver’s mobile number, if you need to call them for anything.
Uber’s app works a little bit differently – upon launching it and logging in, you’re taken directly to a map of your location where you have to pinpoint where you want to be picked up from. It’s a bit fiddly, so I prefer typing in the location manually. The locations are supposedly powered by Foursquare, however even though MAKE is on Foursquare, the app wasn’t able to find it. After typing in ‘Al Fattan Towers’ instead, I was able to use it as my pickup location. The funny thing is that the app doesn’t then ask you for a dropoff location, but instead lets you request for the car anyway. If you want to specify your dropoff location (and find out how much the trip will cost you), you have to hit the ‘Fare quote’ button at the bottom. I find this a bit weird, as Careem quite simply asked me where I was and where I wanted to go, which I thought Uber would do as well. I opted to just book the car anyway, and sure enough when the driver arrived, I had to tell him where I wanted to go, just as if I was in a taxi. In my opinion, if you’re paying for a chauffeur service in advance, you would tell the driver ahead of time where you are and where you want to go, and just get into the car once it arrives. It may be a minor point, but certainly not seeing the cost of the ride with Uber without asking for a fare quote, was a surprise. I ordered the car at 8:53pm, and it arrived promptly at 9:02pm.
A neat feature of the Uber app is the ability to see exactly where your driver is at any point of time. Just fire up the app once you’ve booked a ride, and a small black car will appear on your map so you know exactly where your driver is – no more of the “I’m just 5 minutes away” excuses you get when you book a taxi. You also get a photo of the driver that’s picking you up, as well as a ‘star rating’, which shows the driver’s rating based on other Uber users who have rated them.
The other thing to note is that Careem also offers you the option of booking a ride through their website. So if you’re on a device that doesn’t have the Careem app, you can just load up any browser and get almost the same functionality of the app. For the moment Uber doesn’t offer this feature, but I think it’s something they should certainly introduce in the future. The other point to note is that the Uber Android app was quite buggy, often activating the GPS for extended periods of time if the app was running in the background.
Since Careem and Uber are premium services, the cars that picked me up were reflective of the same. Careem sent over a white Lexus ES350, while Uber sent over a Lexus ES as well (I unfortunately missed out on noting the model, but the photo is below). Both cars were clean and spacious, and set at an optimum temperature to save me from Dubai’s heat.
The drivers were both very polite and friendly, and spoke fairly fluent English. Both immediately got out of the car upon arrival to hold the passenger door open – a minor gesture, but certainly something to take into account for a premium service such as this. And the best part? Neither of them quizzed me on why I wasn’t married yet, which is something I’ve often uncomfortably had to endure during taxi rides.
Careem drivers seem to extensively rely on their GPS devices, so much so that when my driver picked me up, he confessed that originally the GPS had taken him to Al Reem 3 instead, because it was directing him down a road that hasn’t existed for about a year or so. When we were finally on our way however, he was again following the GPS out of Al Reem 1 just to get to the security gate. The problem with him religiously following the GPS is that he missed the only street that actually led up to the security gate, and when I pointed this out to him, he apologized, stopped the car, and then reversed up the way he came. Now given that this is a residential area, that wasn’t a particularly safe or smart thing to do. Eventually we got out of the Arabian Ranches (after the customary nine million speed bumps) and we were on our way. The ride from getting picked up to dropped off at MAKE took around 42 minutes, and cost me AED 88. Initially the GPS was going to take us via Emirates Road, but I foolishly opted to tell the driver to go via Al Barsha and Sheikh Zayed Road, which is probably what made the journey longer.
By contrast, my journey home with Uber was much quicker, albeit it being much later in the day so the traffic was minimal. After ordering a car through the app, I was able to track my driver as he approached Dubai Marina from Sheikh Zayed Road. Within minutes he was waiting at the front of the building, and I hopped in to head home. He ended up taking the route that my Careem driver had wanted to take in the morning, so before I knew it I was approaching the Arabian Ranches. The entire journey took around 22 minutes and cost AED 86.
Both Careem and Uber offer a much more relaxing way to get around the city, and there’s nothing quite like being chauffeured around and leaving the hassles of traffic to someone else. But since this is a premium service, there’s one minor suggestion that I would love for either company to take on board. When I order a hire car on my trips in the U.S, the car always has small bottles of cold water in the back seat. This again may not seem like much, but in a city like Dubai where the heat and humidity can really get to you, I think this would be a small touch that could go a long way. Having said that, both Careem and Uber have their pros and cons, and I encourage you to try both to decide for yourself.