ABU DHABI // The online private car companies Uber and Careem suspended their services in Abu Dhabi at the weekend after drivers were arrested by police.
As many as 50 drivers were held at a police station, and one driver was told 70 cars had been impounded.
“One of our drivers was put in jail at the weekend and it’s happened with loads of drivers from other limousine companies as well,” said an operations manager whose company provides limousine services to Uber and Careem.
“There’s a lot of confusion as to why they were arrested. We haven’t been able to see them or speak to them yet.”
Uber and Careem, which were launched in Abu Dhabi in 2013 and work via mobile apps, are allowed to use only licensed drivers from the 18 registered limousine companies, must price their services in line with limousine services and cannot compete directly with the city’s taxi companies.
The arrests led some limousine firms to stop providing services to Uber and Careem, crippling their operations.
“I was about to turn on the Careem app on Saturday morning but we all got a call from our management who said we didn’t need to work for them that day,” said one driver.
“There were rumours that about 70 cars were seized and taken to [the vehicle impound centre at] Al Wathba.”
An Abu Dhabi police spokesman declined to comment.
“A number of the limousine companies we work with had their drivers stopped, with the result being that the companies decided to go offline on Saturday out of nervousness and lack of clarity,” said Christian Eid, Careem’s marketing vice president in Dubai.
“We don’t have clarity on what’s going on yet but with so many drivers withdrawing, prices have gone up due to lack of supply. We didn’t think this was fair on our customers so we decided to temporarily suspend the service until we know what’s going on.”
An Uber spokesman said the company hoped to resume operations in Abu Dhabi soon, and it would have more information in the next two days.
Mohamed Al Qamzi, general manager of TransAD, the Abu Dhabi taxi regulator, said Uber and Careem had on occasion offered trips at a lower price than licensed limousines, in contravention of regulations.
“Careem and Uber are allowed to operate according to the regulations, which say that they can work with limousine companies as long as they follow the pricing for limousines,” Mr Al Qamzi said yesterday.
“They are bringing customers to limousine companies, which we encourage, but they don’t have the freedom to set prices where they are in competition with the taxis.”
TransAD announced plans in May for stiffer penalties for illegal taxi drivers, with fines of Dh30,000 and deportation.
Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter