The Uber BAKE Experience event held last week at the Nailab gave me some insight into Uber plans and how they operate in Kenya. First, I came to learn that they purely want to be known as technology company and not to be referred as taxi company. Of course, the local taxi operators who they have disrupted their industry in ways they had not imagined might not want to hear this.
Well, before I go far, let me try to explore the business model the likes of Uber are using. They call it shared economy. Shared economy business model is something which if you look closely has been around here for a while but due to the manual ways of doing things, it has never been utilized the way Uber and others have done. For example, Nakumatt business model is such that they rent the spaces for different Vendors. When you go to Nakumatt you basically visiting different stores within one space. Even our matatus were initially designed to utilize the concept of shared economy system when you look at them through their routes and now the saccos.
A sharing economy according to Investopedia is described as an economic model in which individuals are able to borrow or rent assets owned by someone else. The sharing economy model is most likely to be used when the price of a particular asset is high and the asset is not fully utilized all the time. Uber in many ways is the best example of sharing economy app. Of course, locally there are other competing apps but that is a story for another day.
The New App
At the event Uber Kenya unveiled Uber’s revamped rider application that makes it easier for riders to use the ride-hailing app. The revamped version of the app simplifies the ride-hailing process for riders. The app, unlike the older version that focused on where the rider was departing from while offering an array of ride choices, simply asks, “Where to?” And by starting with the rider’s destination, the app tailors the journey to the rider.
For the regular Uber users, you probably have seen the new version of the app by now. Uber Kenya mentioned that the app has been adopted by around 68% of the riders in Kenya. So yes, there those who have not seen it, and if you are among them head to your Google Play Store or iOS to get it. When I downloaded it at first, I was a little bit confused. It brought on my screen a large map of the world with no direction as to what is next but things got better as I came to understand how it works. First, it has sorted out the problem of trying to figure out where you are, especially if you hailing the cab from a place you don’t know well. Once you turn on the location and input the destination, then it takes care of the rest, which is lovely.
Among other improvements, the revamped Uber app now includes features such as upfront pricing and estimate time of arrival at the destination. I thought this was a good one. In a price, sensitive market like Kenya, it makes sense that people can tell the approximate cost of their rides before they take it. The only problem is how to deal with the annoying Kenyan traffic which sometime mess up the original cost at the end (Uber cost is based on distance and time). I am not sure, that can be blamed on Uber although they sounded like they are always looking for solutions for such problems. Here is Uber’s acting GM for East Africa, Loic Amad
“At Uber we stand for more than trips – we are a mission driven company and our mission is critical to the future of cities and their citizens: reliable transportation everywhere, for everyone. And by using technology to get more people into fewer cars, Uber can help turn every journey into a shared journey – reducing congestion and pollution and the need for parking in cities globally. It all starts with ridesharing and self-driving cars will help us fast forward to the future,”.
Other features in the App include Calendar integration that allows riders to integrate the app with their calendars through smart, built-in shortcuts, conduct people searches and share on-trip experiences. I have not used this feature especially the part of sharing experiences but it sounds like Tripadvosor…probably it would enable people to avoid bad drivers in this case ….or mmmmh may be not.
Uber Kenya’s Operations Lead Kagure Wamunyu had the following to say about the new app:
“With this redesign, the app is much more personalized than it was before for riders. For new riders joining the app, they will find it more reliable, affordable and easier to use. And for us at Uber, the new app allows us to move faster to build better experiences and support riders,”
Something that really surprised me at the Uber event was when they shared the drop offs map for Nairobi. It did not show the exact numbers but the density or concentration of drop offs in different locations in Nairobi. Guess the places with among the highest drop offs in Nairobi……..yes, Mathare and Kibera. When I posted the same on Twitter, a number of people who read my TL wondered where I got the stats and sounded a bit surprised like I was. So it is hard to tell whether people being dropped in those areas are the residents or people who have gone to see the wonders of slums. But since we know and usually talk about the idea of slum tourism, may be this gives a clear sign of how many people visit those places.
Of course, the question of about the new Uber drivers who sound as if they do not know how to read the map came up. I remember I once called an Uber driver at 5am, aiming to be in town by 5.30 for a trip to upcountry. The guy kept going in the wrong places, despite trying my best to explain to him where I was. I wasted like 10 minutes before cancelling and calling another Uber. It was frustrating and such incidences have been observed by other users. The question is, did Uber stop training them. The answer is nope and they said they are putting their best training foot forward to ensure that Kenyan customers get the best from their drivers.
What about the Future?
Of late, I have been watching so many videos and documentary about the Artificial Intelligence technology and how it is changing or the possibility of it changing the world. Of more interest to me is the self-driving cars and Uber is known to be in forefront in testing such cars. My feeling before the event was that Africa would be the last to see such cars in case Uber adopt them at the end. I was wrong, at least according to Loic Amad. Africa would give them the perfect place to start the deployment of such cars. He thinks that if it can work here then it can work anywhere. What say you?