Dubai: Private car booking service Uber is taking the fast lane to expansion in the UAE.

The number of drivers partnering with the app service has grown 17 times since 2013, J.P. Mondalek, Uber’s general manager for UAE, said.

The drivers, however, are “independent contractors” and there are no dispatch centres or flag downs on the street.

Mondalek said “we now have hundreds of drivers on our system doing thousands of trips per week” in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but did not reveal exact figures.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the counter for the Uber app for Android phones put global downloads at 5,000,000 or more.

This comes even though Uber is more expensive than official taxi services in the UAE. Its low-cost UberX option has a starting fare of Dh13 while the UberBlack has a Dh20 minimum price.

The minimum fare for a taxi ride in Dubai was increased from Dh10 to Dh12 at the start of this week.

Unlike regular cabs, there are cancellation charges equal to the minimum charges in the Uber option.

Payments are made online through credit card and fares depend on the time and distance taken up in the ride. There are also flat rates between set points. Riders don’t pay cash or use the card in the car.

Drivers keep part of the fare while the rest goes to Uber.

Uber is now covering 250 cities in 50 countries. A year ago, it operated in 60 cities in 21 countries.

In the UAE, Uber launched in Dubai in September 2013 and expanded to Abu Dhabi.

The greater number of drivers also means the ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) has dropped to under six minutes, which is nearly half what it was when Uber started out in the UAE, Mondalek said.

He added that the increased driver participation “is a reflection of the great demand we are seeing. Important to note is that all of our drivers are vetted and licensed by the local authorities and we request original documents when partnering with them.”

According to the general manager, Uber is win-win situation for stakeholders.

“Riders are constantly amazed at that they can get such a safe, reliable ride at their doorstep in a matter of minutes – simply with the tap of a button. Most importantly, our unprecedented safety features means being able to see the drivers name, photo and car license in addition to sharing your route and ETA with family and friends.

“Our partner operators love working with us too because it helps build their business, making drivers more efficient and reliable.”

A similar service, Careem, is also allowing registered drivers and passengers to connect – and that too in an air of hospitality, it says.

The booking provider says on its website that “our partner drivers will treat you like the royalty you are. They will open the car door for you, help you with luggage, offer you water, and drive you smoothly to your destination.

“We rigorously interview all drivers on driving safety, communication skills, navigation knowledge and customer service.”