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4 micromobility startups addressing the UAE’s first and last-mile problem

Today, many micromobility companies local and foreign are bringing their services to the UAE, to address the first and last-mile problem.

In early 2019, however, the UAE banned the rental of e-scooters for safety and regulatory reasons This forced many of the micromobility firm already operating in the country to halt operations Later that year, Abu Dhabi lifted the ban, allowing companies there to resume operations

In the mobility space, it’s often ride-hailing startups that receive the most publicity and exposure. The region had not yet been exposed to companies like Careem and Uber that completely disrupted the transportation sector in the early 2010s, and as such, they’ve received the most attention. 

As of late, however, it’s become apparent that ride-hailing firms are not the end-all, be-all of all things transportation. Enter the first and last-mile problem, which describes the beginning and end of a traveler’s journey. Here’s an example of how a journey often looks like: 

HOME > 10-minute walk > 1ST BUS STATION > Bus ride > 2nd BUS STATION > 5 minute walk > DESTINATION

Based on the example above, we can see that the traveler had to make 2 short trips, at the beginning and end of their journey, to reach the main method of transportation, the bus. These two short trips represent the first and last-mile problem, where travelers’ transportation needs are not being fully addressed. 

Consider this: If a traveler has to walk 15 minutes in the sweltering heat to reach the Dubai Metro, and another 15 minutes to reach their final destination after arriving at the final Metro station, many will just opt for a taxi/Uber or taking out their own car, increasing emissions and traffic. This brings us again to the urgent need for micromobility solutions that will address the first and last-mile issues. 

Today, the UAE is at the forefront of micromobility in the region. However, the rental of electric scooters has been temporarily banned in the country, save for Abu Dhabi, since early 2019. 

Dubai’s RTA said at the time of the ban that it is “currently considering the technical and legislative requirements to allow the operation of electric scooters in addition to the conditions and commitment of scooter drivers”.

Here are 4 companies in the UAE that are dedicated to this niche. 

1. Careem 

While the poster boy for local tech innovation has dominated in the field of ride-hailing, it has also expanded its micromobility services to address the first and last-mile issue that is becoming more apparent in the Middle East. 

During May of 2019, Careem acquired Abu Dhabi bikeshare startup Cyacle. Under the Careem umbrella, Cyacle was rebranded.

However, the Cyacle acquisition is not Careem’s first attempt at dabbling with bikesharing. Earlier that same year, Careem announced that it was partnering with the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) to install 350 bike docking stations across the Emirates, where citizens will have access to 3,500 bicycles to bike share.  

In December of 2019, Careem also partnered with Canadian bike-sharing firm PBSC Urban Solutions and RTA to add the Western firm’s e-bikes to its Careem Bike service.

2. Arnab Mobility 

Another homegrown UAE brand, Arnab Mobility was launched in late 2019 with a mission to “make clean, affordable, healthy, safe, smart and smooth mobility accessible for all through shared personal mobility services.”

“City inhabitants and visitors struggle with first/last mile transportation, congestion and expenses,” Dr. Dheeraj Bhardwaj, Group CEO of Arnab Mobility, told Gulf News. “How efficient is it for a one-ton hulk of metal to take one person two to three miles? Conventional transportation systems are currently insufficient with people dealing daily with traffic, a lack of parking spaces, as well as long walks from bus stops and metro stations.”

How it works. Image: Arnab Mobility

As of March of 2020, Arnab Mobility operated in eight areas across the UAE. This includes Abu Dhabi Corniche, Al Reem Island, Al Maryah Island and Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, as well as Al Qawasim Corniche and Al Mairid in Ras Al Khaimah, Marsa Ajman in Ajman, and Al Ain.

3. LimeUS micromobility firm Lime, whose investors include Uber and Google parent company Alphabet, launched operations in Abu Dhabi last November, deploying 300 e-scooters on the Corniche waterfront. 

“Abu Dhabi is a great city for electric scooters and we’re really excited that it will be Lime’s first market in the GCC,” Mohamad Nsouli, Lime’s UAE general manager said. He previously was employed at Careem.

It cost AED 3 to unlock an e-scooter, with every minute of riding costing an additional AED 1. 

It currently operates in over 100 cities. It has had to pause operations in most of these locations, including Abu Dhabi, due to COVID-19.

4. KIWIride

Another micromobility firm that had to halt operations in the UAE is KIWIride, which initially launched in Dubai during February of 2019. The company deployed a fleet of 600 scooters, which can reach a top speed of 25kph and have up to 45km range on a single charge. 

It costs AED 2.99 to unlock a scooter and AED 0.59 per minute of use. 

Besides Dubai, KIWIride operates in multiple other cities, mostly in Europe.