Metered taxis or not, Uber still remains the one

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I remember when I once boarded a taxi from my work place headed home, I had to engage in barrage negotiations with the cub guy and we finally came to a conclusion having agreed on cost. 30 minutes later, we got to my home area and I asked him to take a detour from the main road…the taxi guy went on a rant claiming that I had to add money on top of what he had asked explaining that I had not told him of any detour…we all know where senseless arguments like those end up…

Fast forward, I do not need to utter a word today after hailing a taxi. Thanks to uber, before the driver picks you, they already know how many detours to take to your destination, the fee is not negotiable and so is anything else.

Why did EasyTaxi flop? Because all it does, is connect the driver and the rider and leaves the rest to them to agree on. Not much difference from your loyal cub guy anyway. Uber is just not a connector; It is a full operating system that works for many as a side hustle, gives the user virtual sight of where the driver is and besides being economy friendly, the ride is secure and convenient…just something about having the drivers full details.

There is some joy in fully agreeing on the cost before driving off especially with crazy traffic snarl ups in Nairobi. The fee remains as agreed even five hours later still stuck in traffic. The fear of boarding an uber for long distances is the cost that you might be a few hundreds less.

But there is the predetermined cost once you enter your destination and even though it is not accurate, in a case you will be coins less, you will not have to exchange blows with the driver. The uber driver is advised to let you go, and the next time you ask for one, the debt will be part of your bill.

The other fight you would pick with your normal cub guy is if you dare dirtify his hard maintained car. Say after a night out, or that sick day and you happen to puke in the car, the company will charge you cleaning fee, which you do not necessarily have to pay on the spot.

“I have had many clients puke in my car, which is grossly disgusting but I have to keep my cool and follow the system that will charge the customer ‘cleaning fee’ which they do not have to pay on the spot, since it can be carried over to the next trip and I will get my refund after cleaning the mess.” says an Uber driver.

In December 2015, the Nairobi City county announced the introduction of taxi meters through the Nairobi City County Taxi Cabs Bill, 2015. If passed, taxi drivers would have the meter fitted in their vehicles to calculate taxi fees based on distance and time taken, hence replacing the current system based on mutual agreement.

The type-approved meters maybe a solution to beat high charges for passengers especially during off peak hours but not really competition to Uber. Unlike the seamless system by the transport application, meters come with extra charges for passengers crossing counties, those with heavy luggage and those travelling during the night.

It could be compared to uber’s surge that multiplies the fares by 2 or 1.5 when the customer traffic is too much. However, the surge is not fixed. I doubt I would trust a metered taxi anyway considering the chances  that cunning Nairobi drivers might just tamper with the calculations. Just like matatu drivers do with the speed governors.

The only bit of this law that would come close to hitting Uber is the permit denial to Kenyans abroad who own taxis or non-residential taxi owners. Uber is however a foreign company operating through citizens of Kenya just like in other countries it is spread.

Taxi drivers have had their cake and ate it before, now that riders have moved on, they are asking the government to put in measures to achieve equal business. The demand is un-achievable since the systems are worlds apart. However, let us wait and see what the negotiations between taxi owners, uber and the government bore, bearing in mind that the answer lies with the riders.

 

 

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Melissa Daniels
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KENYA