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Amman's Yellow Taxis Compete for Passengers After the Arrival of Uber and Careem

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Jordan, Economics & Business, Labor

Taxi driver picking up a passenger in Amman, Jordan. Photo by Monther Hammad. Used with permission.

In Amman, Jordan's capital, approximately 11,400 [1] yellow taxi cabs serve more than 3.5 million residents. The majority of Amman's residents use cabs every day, placing high demands on taxi drivers who fall short on customer satisfaction.

Complaints [2] have included manipulating the meter, swearing and cursing, refusing certain destinations, and smoking in the car. That's why many Amman residents were relieved when private companies like Uber and Careem arrived in Amman at the beginning of 2016.

Amman resident Aseel Odeh told Global Voices (GV):

I live in Jabal Al-Hussein, which is a pretty crowded place. I quit my last job because it was 30 minutes away and no one would agree to drive me back home. 

When they did agree to drive her home, they often charged exorbitant prices. But Odeh didn't have many transportation options. Hazem Zureiqat, a transport consult, reports that Amman only has 350 big buses [3] serving the entire capital and its poor public transportation system only accounts for 5% of everyday transportation needs. 

Moreover, the gas prices are relatively high compared with neighboring countries, with prices reaching $3.44 USD per litre in Jordan, while it is only .24 USD per litre in neighboring Saudi Arabia.

Private ride-share companies offer promise of safety and security

Amman residents like Yacoub Lambaz prefer companies like Careem and Uber over yellow taxi cabs:

Careem is a company, and every driver is an employee who follows rules and regulations and is confronted by the company in case the driver breaks said rules. This makes me feel safer knowing that if the driver commits an unauthorized act, he will be questioned, and I will receive compensation.

In culturally conservative Jordan, mobile application features like “track my ride”  reassure families that female members will feel safer. A woman's sole mode of transport was through a family member until the introduction of Uber and Careem apps.

Amman resident Aisha Azzam tells GV:

Careem makes me feel safe because the drivers respect us and make us feel comfortable, and they do not complain if there is traffic on the way.

Suzan, a mother of five, says:

I’m the worrying kind, so I never used to let my kids go anywhere unless I personally drove them there, but with Careem, I let them go anywhere, as long as they share their ride route with me via whatsapp.

Heyam, an Uber fan, asserts:

Uber is much safer at night.

Backlash and legal battles ensue

Careem promised [3] to create 10,000 jobs in the country between 2016 and 2018. However, until December 2017, Jordanian law forbade private cars from providing transportation services, rendering Careem and Uber illegal.

The government decided to tax rather than ban these services, but bigger complications came in the form of a massive backlash from yellow taxi drivers who reported an 80% decline [3] in their business since the arrival of Uber and Careem. 

Yellow taxi drivers took action in the form of several protests over a couple of months, repeatedly directing complaints to the government for not taking action to defend them.

The protests started on November 2016 [4] when, as Uber and Careem started to gain more popularity, taxi cab drivers decided to gather and voice their complaints publicly.

This, in turn, led the government to adopt new measures  [5]such as impounding Uber and Careem cars, fining their drivers, taking down their apps, and even dedicating a whole unit in the Traffic Police to hunting them down.

There were protests throughout 2017 as well, and they escalated from being a way of demonstrating dissatisfaction with the situation to some even threatening to burn their taxis. [6] 

There were protests held in January, [7] April, [8] July [9], August, [6] September [10], and November [11] of 2017. 

This did not play well [12]with Careem and Uber enthusiasts, who had gotten used to smoke-free and safe cars.

Amman resident Farah Mohammed tells GV:

 When both the Uber and Careem apps were taken down for a couple of days, I went insane. I couldn’t go anywhere. There would be yellow taxi cabs right outside my house, but I still wouldn’t get into them. I let my dad drive me around until the apps were back up.

The fact that these apps are technically illegal did not stop anyone [13] from riding with Careem or Uber, especially in harsh weather conditions. 

Lambaz explains:

I used Careem even when it was illegal, and once, a taxi driver ratted us out to a police officer. The driver and I managed to squeeze out of that situation. I gave him a 5 star rating for the action pack ride!

Eventually, the government allowed Careem [14] to apply for a license, but only on the condition [1] that it would add a yellow taxi service to its app. Careem agreed to the condition given that the new taxi drivers would undergo training to comply by company standards. The legalization process started on August 2017 [14] and was finalized on December 2017. [15]

Another protest was held [15] in response to the approval.  

Complaints continue of unfair competition

Yellow taxi drivers still thought that there was unfair competition because Careem only agreed to take in 5,000 yellow cabs [1], leaving the rest out to dry.

Abu Mahmoud, a 55 year old cab driver explains:

I worked as a taxi driver for most of my life, and saved up in the hope to buy my own taxi someday. When I finally did spend my whole life savings to buy a cab, we are no longer needed! I cannot work, as no one uses us yellow taxi cabs anymore, and no one wants to buy the taxi, since it is no longer a lucrative business.

Abu Al-Abed, who has been working as a taxi driver for 13 years alongside Abu Mahmoud chimes in:

I have to pay 25 Jordanian Dinars (35 USD) to the man I rent the taxi from, of late, I have to pay most of that from my own money, as I do not even make it to 15 Jordanian Dinars (21 USD) on most days.

Yellow cab drivers’ laments have been met with little sympathy from many Jordanians.

Amman resident Mariam says:

Taxis were constantly charging us more for certain places, making unnecessary small talk, and sometimes asking inappropriate questions. I will never go back to using them after I have started using Uber.

The Transport Services and Taxi Owners Union did not make an official statement on the government’s decision, as they are waiting for a copy of the regulations to make a comment.

For Yellow taxi drivers, the struggle for passengers is real. Once Jordan's only private transportation option, they are totally overwhelmed by new competition.

Speaking to Al Monitor [16], Zureiqat pointed out that the root problem is the government's failure to provide a good public transport system:

The reasons why these services are successful here is because the government has failed to provide a decent public transport system.