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Uber taxi fare cut triggers drivers go-slow in Nairobi

Taxi drivers contracted under Uber app. Safaricom backed Little Cab has announced the lowest fares in the industry ahead of its launch next month.  PHOTO | FILE
Taxi drivers contracted under Uber app. Customers of the American taxi-hailing app Uber Tuesday faced periodic price surges in Nairobi following a go-slow that saw hundreds of drivers abandon duty. PHOTO | FILE 

Customers of the American taxi-hailing app Uber Tuesday faced periodic price surges in Nairobi following a go-slow that saw hundreds of drivers abandon duty in protest of the rates cut that came into effect last week.

At one point riders from the Central Business Districts (CBD) to the Karen suburb paid Sh2,375, nearly double (about 1.9 times) the usual price of Sh1,250. The price surge lasted for the better part of yesterday morning before normal charges resumed in the afternoon when drivers called off the go-slow.

Uber price surges ordinarily occur during morning and evening rush hours or when the taxi-hailing firm wants to get more drivers on the road by offering attractive rates. Prices in the evening rush hour sometimes rise by up to 1.8 times the standard rate.

“Prices go up during morning hours and evening but I have not seen them hiked this much (yesterday). The morning was busy because few drivers were on the road, that explains why the prices went up,” said an Uber driver who sought anonymity.

About 200 Uber drivers held the demonstrations in protest of the 35 per cent price cut that came into effect last Thursday. The price cut saw the firm reduce its per kilometre cost to Sh35 from Sh60.

It also reduced its charges per minute by Sh1 to Sh3 and cut the pricing of short rides by Sh100 to Sh200 while base fare remained unchanged at Sh100. The firm however set a minimum peak-time and off-peak pay for its drivers to shield them from loss of income arising from the passenger fare price cut.

“This was a small gathering of driver-partners and they do not reflect the sentiments of thousands of operators using the Uber app in Kenya. It did not impact business, operations were normal and driver-partners across Nairobi continued to move people safely, reliably and affordably,” said an Uber Africa spokesperson.

Minimum compensation
Under the pay guarantee, Uber drivers stand to earn an indemnity of between Sh500 and Sh450 for every peak and off-peak hour respectively that they fail to get ride requests when their Uber gadgets are online.

The firm also promised to top up drivers’ earnings during off-peak hours where rides requested are worth less than the set compensation minimum.
The drivers are to get compensation when they meet certain conditions including being online (on duty) within the set hours, making one trip every two working hours and taking 90 per cent of ride requests within their tenure.

Drivers who took part in the protest expressed their disapproval of the price cut by marching to Uber’s offices in Westlands, where they demanded to be addressed by the firm’s management.

The drivers sought to have the San-Francisco based firm review the rates upwards but Uber said it has already held discussions with the drivers before the new prices were announced, maintaining that the drivers should use the available communication channels to engage them.

“There are many ways driver-partners can let us know if they have any individual concerns. We have held multiple focus groups, and one-on-one feedback sessions over the past six weeks leading up to the price cut.

Three days before the price cut we saw over 1,000 drivers and partners, to go through the plan, and explain how the minimum guarantees ensure they don’t lose out, “  said the Uber Spokesperson.

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