When car sharing services started turning up all over Abu Dhabi I was intrigued. But all I could think about was the potential hassle: trying to get in a car I’d booked, for example, or not being able to find the car I’d booked and getting frustrated in the heat. Or, for that matter, having to take a taxi to find the car, which seems like a hassle too far.
That’s why I jumped at the chance to test out the new-to-Abu Dhabi, pay-by-the minute ekar service when the company offered to loan me an MG ZS for the week. Once I had pushed all my imaginary scenarios out of the way, I was eager to try out a service that, along with U Drive, is really taking off in the UAE.
The car sharing phenomenon has been around in North America and Europe for many years, embraced for the environmental benefits, which include reducing air pollution, wear-and-tear on roads and the need for ever more parking, thus freeing up resources for governments to use on developing parks and other urban green spaces instead.
In a survey this year by AutoTel, the Tel Aviv-based car sharing company, more than 1,000 users of the service said their household car use had gone down by 45 percent. And according to the 2018 Impact Report released by the leading American car sharing network Zipcar, every Zipcar on the road eliminates the need for up to 13 personally owned vehicles.
The ekar service is app-based. You book a car, either right now or up to a day ahead, and then find it using Google maps. Ekar promises that one will be available in your neighborhood, and I’ve seen another ekar in mine every day since this experiment. But since ekar has only 150 cars in Abu Dhabi, they are not going to be in every neighborhood all the time. That’s why I suggest downloading the app for both services in Abu Dhabi — U Drive and ekar — and checking the locations of the cars around the city. Do this for a while to determine whether this option is going to be right for you before diving in.
Once you’ve booked a car and found it, it will automatically unlock. An audio message will prompt you to open the glove box and punch in the pin code you’ve been sent to retrieve the key. After the key is released, the car is yours for the time you’ve booked it.
Prices vary, from Dh36 per hour for the MG 360 up to Dh48 per hour for an Infiniti Q10. You can also rent by the week (Dh750 to Dh2,299) or month (Dh2,250 to Dh4,750), but that’s where the cost of car sharing starts to outweigh the benefits, although the convenience remains. The real beauty of car sharing, from an economic perspective, is that you pay by the minute – from 60 to 80 fils, depending on the model, and not the distance travelled.
That makes car sharing a much cheaper option than taxis, and more convenient too. Since I often work from home, there have been days that I only use my car to get to my yoga class in Al Raha, a 15-minute drive away. Realistically, I could get there and back in under two hours and even squeeze in a quick errand or two. That’s a maximum Dh72 cost for the cheapest models – at least Dh25 cheaper than a taxi for the same trip.
Two more frugal points: petrol is included, via a special smart chip that allows you to refuel via self-serve with the “Special” grade of petrol at Adnoc. Parking is included too, provided you park in standard zones. ( I got two parking tickets when I used my ekar, but when I contacted the company about it they said they would be paid.) Your credit card will be charged for Salik.
To get started on car sharing in the UAE, you a need driving license, ID and must be 21 years or older. The credit card authorization fee is Dh1 and the approval process takes just one hour.
Featured image courtesy ekar
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.