The American ride-sharing service Uber withdrew its business from Morocco after three difficult years, leaving about 300 drivers jobless and customers shell-shocked.
Approximately 19,000 people used Uber in Casablanca and Rabat but authorities’ inability to legally approve ride-sharing services (RSS) activities forced Uber to cease operations in Morocco.
“The current regulatory uncertainty does not allow us to provide a safe and reliable experience for neither [our] customers nor [our] drivers. So, as long as there is no real reform and an environment favourable to new mobility solutions, we are forced to suspend our operations,” Uber said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, since our launch in Morocco almost three years ago, we have not had any clarity on the integration of applications like Uber into the existing transportation model.”
Uber’s decision came after many attempts to find with Moroccan authorities “a solution that would suit everyone.”
Analysts blamed the government for Uber’s exit at a time Morocco was ranked by the Bloomberg Innovation Index among the 50 most innovative countries.
Rachid Aourraz, analyst and researcher at the Arab Centre for Scientific Research and Human Studies, said Morocco showed it was not ready for such a transportation service, blaming government policies.
“Morocco is still not willing to invest in digital technology and innovation, including the transportation sector,” said Aourraz.
Uber introduced UberGreen in partnership with Derichebourg during the UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakech. The application allowed customers to hire electric vehicles to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and fight pollution in the city.
“Morocco deserves modern regulation that encourages innovation and competition. So why not innovate in the transport sector? For example, our partnership with COP 22 in November 2016 enabled us to facilitate more than 10,000 hybrid and electric vehicle trips in less than a week,” said Uber.
Aourraz said Uber’s halt of its activities coincided with Morocco’s bid to host the 2026 World Cup. “What kind of image are we giving to the world?” asked Aourraz, who said he had used Uber services.
Several customers said they were using Uber because it was faster, cleaner, more comfortable and convenient — although it is more expensive — than traditional taxi services.
Most of Morocco’s diesel-powered red taxis are in a dire state and polluting. Some taxi drivers refuse to take customers to certain neighbourhoods.
Uber’s withdrawal divided Moroccans.
“A good proof that Morocco (the political class, the people) does not yet have the intellectual and urban level to accept such advancement in its daily life,” wrote Ahmed al-Hamdani on Facebook.
Hamdani’s comment was met with a criticism from Aitzaid Ismail. “Is it to satisfy your lack of ego that you demean all the Moroccan people? Or are you really convinced that Uber’s halt is a proof?” asked Ismail.
“I have had evidence twice that some drivers are lacking a lot of professionalism. Maybe Uber’s halt does not come only from the outside but also from the inside,” said Matine Loubaris.
Red taxi drivers have battled Uber and other unlicensed RSS operates in Casablanca amid a lack of clear stance from authorities on the issue.
From anti-Uber protests and stickers to intimidation tactics, which sometimes ended up with altercations, taxi drivers made their competitors’ lives unbearable.
“From December 15 to December 21, 2016, about 30 Uber vehicles were trapped. Taxi drivers ordered Uber and, once there, our drivers were surrounded by several taxi drivers. One of them was injured and had to have surgery after having fractures of the fingers,” Meryem Belqziz, director-general of Uber Maroc, told the HuffPost Maroc.
Some Uber drivers said they were stunned by the companies’ decision.
“After logging on, I found a message saying that, from February 23, it was over,” Nabil told Lemonde.fr.
Uber said that its 300 drivers would be “accompanied with individual support the time to overcome this difficult transition.”
Aourraz called on the government to reform the transportation sector and line up with the developed countries in terms of digital innovation.
“How are we going to market Casablanca as one of the world’s leading financial hubs while in the same time we have a bureaucratic system that hampers innovation?” he asked.
Saad Guerraoui is a regular contributor to The Arab Weekly on Maghreb issues.