Transport and Infrastructure Secretary James Macharia has thrown his weight behind online taxi hailing firm Uber, warning regular street cab operators not to break the law in their protests against the American company.
The CS has told United Kenya Taxi Association to find a way of working with Uber, as his Internal Security counterpart Joseph Nkaissery offered to broker a truce between the two.
Mr Macharia’s statement came after the regular taxi lobby issued the Transport ministry a seven-day ultimatum calling on the government to end the current standoff between its members and Uber Taxi drivers.
The lobby threatened to stop operations after the seven days and hold demonstrations that would paralyse activity in the city.
In response to their demands the transport CS said that United Kenya Taxi Association needed to be careful not to break the law or illegally disrupt economic activity.
“We are in a liberalised environment and those who offer competitive services must be protected. Uber operators and their clients will be protected,” said Mr Macharia.
The association of regular taxi drivers, at a press conference on Wednesday, called on the government to intervene and end the business rivalry and competition between the two groups.
The lobby also asked President Uhuru Kenyatta to declare Uber illegal claiming that it had threatened the livelihood of 15,000 of their members.
Two people have so far been arrested and will be charged in court for vandalising cars belonging to Uber drivers.
Tension between Uber and regular taxi drivers has remained high since January when the first incidences of harassment against the drivers were reported in Westlands.
Regular taxi drivers are claiming that Uber’s cheap pricing model is denying them business.
The duel also prompted Mr Nkaissery to direct his Principal Secretary, Karanja Kibicho, to bring the two parties on the negotiating table.
“We are not at war and have no problem with Uber staying. But the problem comes in because they have not strategised on accommodating local players,” said Ashford Mwangi, the spokesman of United Kenya Taxi Association.
“Uber is not the first app supporting the taxi business in Kenya. We have the likes of Maramoja and Easy Taxi apps working well within the industry simply because they involved stakeholders to determine rates. So far, we have never had any issues with those apps for the two years they have been operational in Nairobi,” he said.
Mr Mwangi said that members of the lobby were ready for negotiations, and requested the government to mediate between the taxi association and Uber. He also denied claims that Uber had made attempts to reach out to the local taxi associations.
Uber, on the other hand, claimed to have started consultations with the local taxi associations last year.
Samantha Allenberg, Uber Africa spokesperson, told the Business Daily that; “Uber has been engaging with taxi associations since last year to find a way that we can partner with them. We do not feel that it should be about Uber or Taxi but rather Uber and Taxi.”
Mr Mwangi denied Allenberg’s claim saying that Uber had not contacted them.