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Image courtesy of Wheels NYUAD


A group of NYU Abu Dhabi students has set out to release a new mobile app that would popularize the concept of car sharing in the UAE, reducing traffic pollution.

Whenever conversation turns toward the environment, vehicular pollution is one of the most prominent topics of discussion. These conversations are particularly relevant to the UAE, which is a major contributor to the global pollution levels. According to the Roads and Transport Authority, Dubai’s vehicle density was 540 cars per 1,000 people in 2015 — one car for every two residents — and the number has since been on the rise. The UAE has one of the highest vehicle densities in the world, and it has been a while since the country started considering ways to combat the issue. One of the latest suggestions was the introduction of a toxicity charge that would penalize vehicles producing heaviest pollution.
A group of NYU Abu Dhabi students, however, has recently devised an alternate solution. This team of students has set out to release a new mobile app that would popularize the concept of car sharing in the UAE, thus countering the increasing traffic pollution levels by reducing the number of vehicles in use. Wheels, as the app will be called, will provide a system for people to share rides together, reducing both the personal and the environmental cost of the ride.
“When I moved here last year, I noticed that even though there is a lot of infrastructural development in the region, traffic congestions are still a pressing matter,” explained Julius Grüner, Class of 2021 and one of the project’s founders. “If you look around, you will notice that most of the vehicles are used very ineffectively — usually, there is only one person sitting in a car. A logical step would therefore be to increase the number of passengers per vehicle, and go about using less in general.”
What made such ideas hardly possible in the past was the UAE’s stance on carpooling. It is still illegal in many parts of the country, including Abu Dhabi. For this reason, the modes of transportation on Wheels will initially be limited to taxis only.
“Although there is a taxi sharing app that exists in Abu Dhabi already, it is difficult to find, navigate and is overall not very user-friendly,” said Sebastián Caro, Class of 2021 and one of the app’s founders. “We wanted to create a system that would be easy to access and use, and would also ensure people’s safety.”
In the beginning, the app will be straightforward to operate. Upon opening Wheels, users will be able to either publish a route or choose one that has already been posted. To create a new trip, the app will request to indicate the starting location and the destination, the number of passengers and the time of departure, which can vary from an hour to a couple of days after the request. The ride will be published on a dashboard showing other users the route, the time and the cost of the trip. The co-founders assured that the system will be entirely free — no additional fees will be imposed on the rides, as the users will manage to split the cost upon meeting.
People will be able to sync the app with other social media platforms, which will link familiar users’ accounts together to create a reliable and safe network. “This will help us to solve the issue of security, which is the government’s main concern regarding this concept,” explained Grüner and Caro. Over the first few months, Wheels will only be available to the NYUAD community. During this time, the team will collect data and work on upgrading and refining the app before it is ready for a wider launch.
“After we have sufficient data, we will resume conversations with the authorities about introducing Wheels to the general public,” added the co-founders. “As students, we do not yet have a reputation that would reassure the government of our trustworthiness, so we need valid information that would back up our ideas. However, we are also in a certain position of advantage — coming off as the innovative young generation [of] entrepreneurs, we managed to draw attention to our project. Affiliation with NYUAD also helps, as the university has already started making a name in the region.”
“If you think about it, by simply linking two people together, the amount of gas emissions for that one trip is reduced by half,” mentioned Grüner. “Imagine what would happen if carpooling became a common practice, used by hundreds or thousands of people every day.”
If the students’ initiative proves to be successful, it could make a great impact on the country’s pollution and traffic levels. The students have been working on the app since November 2017, and Wheels is finally set to launch in the few upcoming weeks.
Auguste Nomeikaite is Deputy Social Media Editor. Email her at
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