This morning, I used Uber services for the first time. I was just curious after the noise about it. The first time they came to Kenya, about a year ago, I tried to test their service but when I downloaded the app and tried to register, I quickly deleted the app when they only had one option for payment – the card – and I wrote a post on Facebook saying this thing would never work if they forced people to register with their credit cards.
They might have listened and changed. Currently, they have a cash option. And drivers accept MPesa too so that is more convenient. Further, you can register using your Facebook or Google accounts. So everyone can register.
Local taxis are opposed to Uber and are fighting them, literally. Their beef is that Uber is grossly underpricing their services. My conversation with two of the drivers this morning, and my personal observations, reveal the following about Uber:
- Uber taxis have complied with all the necessary requirements for taxi services in Kenya. They have the licenses and insurance. Their compliance levels are quite high.
- All the drivers/partners have to obtain certificates of good conduct from the CID and all the vehicles have to be inspected before they are registered to work under Uber. Remember, the company does not own any car. The partners do.
- The taxi people that are against Uber are not these registered taxi companies that have complied with the necessary regulations. They are your local taxis that are owned by individuals and ply the estates. Those ones that do not operate are registered taxis but private cars.
- On pricing, it is a win-win situation for vehicle owners and the clients. Their pricing is very low but fluctuates depending on demand, distance, sharing, and discounts. I paid 350/- for a trip that ordinarily costs me at least 500/-.
The taxi drivers are able to get clients on a round trip. For instance, the guy who picked me had just dropped someone close by and would have gone with a free vehicle had it not been for Uber. So, he ends up getting about 700/- for the round trip yet each of us, clients, only paid 350/- each. We both win.
- The demand for Uber services, especially after the noise from other private taxi operators has shot through the roof. Indeed, it is free advertising for them. Most of the drivers are overwhelmed, some working 24/7. In the words of both drivers that I had a chat with, the only time they don’t work is when they decide to switch off their gadgets and go offline.
- When Uber came to Kenya, taxi operators were given the first priority to be partners. Most of them refused. Those who agreed to opt in have added fleets of vehicles in a span of one year. The first respondent told me they began with 4 vehicles. They now have 40 under Uber. And all of them are on the road.
- Celebrities, politicians, UN offices, audit firms, and other professionals and institutions prefer Uber to other local taxis. Two reasons were given.
One, safety. You know who the driver is and the vehicle as all the details are sent to your phone. If you forget your laptop in the car, or a phone, or anything, the chances of it getting totally lost are near zero. You’ll just email and the item will be delivered to you. And since you know all the details of the car and your driver, you are in safe hands in case of anything.
Two, tracking. For institutions, they prefer Uber as they can actually track where their employees went. Uber has a business feature that institutions can use. Usage, and therefore travel expenses, can be tracked and managed from the office.
And offices prefer this services also because Uber does not charge ‘waiting fees’.
- Über is here to stay. They pay their taxes and have complied with all necessary regulations to operate a business in Kenya. The partners/drivers are happy. The clients are happy. Other taxi operators better join Uber and benefit together or languish alone.