End Of The Road For Expat Drivers, With Emergence Of ‘New Normal’ In Saudi Arabia

JUN 26, 2018 (BE2C2): The recruitment of foreign drivers in Saudi Arabia will decrease by 50 percent over the next 10 years due to the new law allowing women to drive, according to some experts.

The ban was lifted on June 24 — the world’s only ban on women driving. It’s part of a series of reform that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has been pushing to restructure the socio-economic ecosystem of the country.

Increasing household income and re-calibrating the spending of disposal income of an average Saudi family are twin goals on one end that the Saudi Vision 2030 intends to achieve.

But the move will expectedly dent the expat driver’s population gradually and reduce related remittances figures over the years.

Hamad Al-Baishan, a recruitment agent, told Saudi Gazette recruitment charges will decrease and expat drivers will also lose their jobs.

“Women will be more independent and the financial burden of hiring a driver will no longer be an issue. Women will also be working in the transportation industry as bus drivers and metro drivers,” said Al-Baishan.

Saleh Bin Abdulwahid, another recruitment office agent, said hiring drivers is usually a financial burden on a Saudi family.

“Women driving will lessen the family’s financial burden and give women a safer option,” said Bin Abdulwahid.

Popular ride-hailing services Careem and Uber have started preparations and training for female drivers to join their workforces.

“We’ve set a longer-term target of having 20,000 females signed up region-wide by 2020,” said Careem CEO Mudassir Sheikha in an email statement to Forbes Middle East.

An earlier report by SG said there was a 40 percent decline in (male) driver recruitment by the end of the year. It is also expected that the cost of recruiting (male) drivers will decline by 33 percent.

According to the General Authority of Statistics, the number of foreign drivers in the Kingdom stood at 1.38 million in the first quarter of 2017. They received an average monthly salary of SR1,500. These numbers transform to approx SAR24.84b in remittances.

With 50 percent decline in expat driver’s number, the annual remittances (mostly to South Asian countries) could theoretically reduce to half ~SAR12.42b — a whopping number.

Conversely, more than the same amount could enter the Saudi economic cycle with the move in terms of increase in disposal income and female employments.

Women in many Saudi families have been waiting eagerly to drive their own cars after the holy month of Ramadan which ended last week. Many also look forward to female-driven taxis and ride-hailing services.

Currently around 70% of Careem’s passengers in Saudi Arabia are women, according to the company, service as such helps women move around without having to be driven by a male relative. Uber plans to roll out a feature this fall that will allow women to choose to be connected to female riders, reported Forbes.

“We are honored to play a part in this historic moment for women in Saudi Arabia. By empowering female entrepreneurs, Uber is proud to provide the same economic opportunities currently enjoyed by male drivers across the Kingdom,” said Pierre Dimitri Gore-Coty, the head of operations for Uber EMEA. “We have partnered with Saudi women to explore how Uber can work for them, and we will continue listening as we build the future of urban mobility in Saudi Arabia together.”

As women’s rights, family needs, and economic growth align in the Kingdom, many say the “new normal” will benefit each family also.

Abrar Wafa, Saudi electrical engineering student, told SG she will definitely end the reliance on her driver for three reasons. She says she feels guilty when she goes shopping, leaving the driver to wait for her outside the mall for hours. The driver is doing nothing except driving her to her destination and waiting for her. “So I want to feel free,” said Wafa.

Second, it is safer for her and her family to drive by herself. “Not only now but also in the future, it is safer for my daughter to travel around alone rather than being with a foreign man,” she said.

The third reason Wafa cited for her decision was all female members of her family shared one driver and they need to coordinate with each other on when to use his services. This is an extra burden on the driver and the members of the family. According to Wafa, it is much better when a woman runs her own errand.

Rehab Mekwar, a mass communications graduate in her mid-20s, explained to SG that she would let go of her driver as soon as she starts driving. “The driver can be a nice person, but as soon as he meets people from his country or community, he would change 100 percent. The driver keeps asking for more money or a salary raise, and he will exploit our dependency on him by refusing to give us a ride or saying he won’t drive. If we don’t obey his desire, the driver threatens to leave the work,” Mekwar said.

Most drivers do not respect time in general and they either drive them late, or arrive late to pick them up. “Sometimes our drivers takes a lot of time to get ready in order to make us upset or he drives in anger, which sometimes leads to accidents and traffic fines that come out of nowhere,” said Mekwar.

“If we blame him and deduct some money from his salary because of the fine, he would not be happy and would threaten to leave the work,” she added.

The driver will exploit people’s generosity and become greedy, which means he will not give her a ride unless she tipped him, according to Mekwar.

“I could save the money that I give to the driver and instead use it to pay for my own car. I will be responsible and take care of the house needs. I believe that I will drive carefully and obey the rules of the road, because the last thing I want is to pay traffic fines,” Mekwar said.

“I am person who does not like to be dependent on a driver or a maid in my home,” said Nada Hafiz, a housewife in her mid-30s.

Hafiz has not faced problems with her driver, but she wants to feel responsible and independent.

Hafiz does not believe in the sponsorship system in which she is responsible for another person. “I feel responsible if my driver gets sick or God forbid he dies while he is under my sponsorship. I do not want to be responsible for him and the freedom to drive is the best excuse to relieve myself from that responsibility,” she added.

Hafiz is one the many women who will sit behind the wheel and be responsible for her own fate. She believes, however, that not many women will be driving at first as they will wait until society will accept it 100 percent.

On the other hand, there are some people who will not let go of their drivers as most drivers play an essential role in the family.

Eman Bukhari, a housewife in her early 50s, explained that she would never let her driver go. He lived with the family for several years, and he knows some important work in her house to do.

“Ahmed, the driver, is not just a driver; he does other important things in my home. I really appreciate his help in taking care of my villa and watering the plants every day. He is also responsible for taking care of electricity and the water pump,” explained Bukhari.

“Ahmed does a lot for my family. I like him to do the grocery shopping and he knows my preferred shopping destinations. He takes me to the hospital whenever I have to see a doctor. On top of everything, he knows how to deal with the crowd on Jeddah’s streets,” she said.

“I don’t think I will dispense with my driver maybe because I am new to this or maybe because of my age. I am too old to learn how to drive,” she added.

Abdulaziz Muhammad, a retired Saudi man in his 60s, said his driver became part of the family as he was driving for them for more than 30 years.

Muhammad said many times his driver asked to send him on final exit but I kept persuading him to stay even it meant allowing him to vacation in his country twice a year to be next to his family.

“When a driver is multi-tasked, it is impossible to live without him. With women driving on the way, I asked my wife if she wanted to end their driver’s services in case she wanted to drive. She told me that there is no way she will do that as he is an important member of the family and knows everything they want. During our vacation, he takes care of the house in our absence. He also attends to the needs of my daughter and son who live separately,” Muhammad said.

Nonetheless, women driving will spur a new normal. Only one in five Saudis employed in the country are women, reported Quartz. Inconvenient transportation has played a role in blocking women from pursuing jobs because they previously needed male relatives or drivers to provide rides, according to Quartz. As the ban has been lifted, new opportunities are available for Saudi women, not just driving for Uber and Careem as ‘Captains’. Uber accepted $3.5 billion from the government’s Public Investment Fund in June 2016 and gave Saudi Arabia a seat on its board.

A huge women workforce is poised to emerge in years ahead, call it by any name: revolution or rebranding.

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