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Politics and policy

Nairobi taxi drivers launch own battle against Uber

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Uber does not employ drivers or own vehicles but uses non-professionally licensed contractors with own cars to offer the service. PHOTO | FILE

Uber does not employ drivers or own vehicles but uses non-professionally licensed contractors with own cars to offer the service. PHOTO | FILE 

By ANNIE NJANJA and DOREEN WAINAINAH

Posted  Monday, January 25   2016 at  00:00

In Summary

  • Nairobi taxi drivers last Thursday warned of an impending attack on Uber partners, prompting the US tech firm that owns the service to alert its Kenyan associates to move with care.
  • The taxi operators are opposed to Uber’s pricing model, which cuts by more than half what they have been charging commuters in central Nairobi.
  • Uber’s pricing is hinged on a metering gauge that charges users for every kilometre covered - meaning every trip is openly priced, removing the need for negotiating each trip.
  • Riders in Nairobi pay Sh60 per a kilometre covered and Sh4 per minute in addition to a base fare of Sh100.

Kenyan taxi drivers have launched their own version of the ongoing global revolt against taxi hailing service Uber, arguing that its pricing model is driving them out of business.

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The taxi drivers last Thursday warned of an impending attack on Uber partners, prompting the US tech firm that owns the service to alert its Kenyan associates to move with care.

“We have received reports of isolated intimidation and harassment of our partner-drivers at the Oval — a commercial building complex — in Nairobi’s Westlands,” Uber said in a message sent to partner-drivers.

“Please be alert and aware in this area by concealing your Uber device and ensuring that your pick-ups and drop-offs take place in public, well lit areas,” read the text from Uber.

"We are working with the relevant stakeholders in Nairobi to ensure the negative experience is not repeated," said Samantha Allenberg, the spokesperson for Uber Africa.

Kenyan taxi operators are opposed to Uber’s pricing model, which cuts by more than half what they have been charging commuters in central Nairobi.

“Uber fares are as low as Sh300 to Westlands. We do not understand that pricing model and cannot charge that low because we also pay taxes,” the Kenya Taxi Cab Association (KTCA) treasurer, Richard Muiga, said.

Mainstream taxi operators charge an average of Sh600 to Westlands from Nairobi’s Central Business District.

Uber has gained quick traction in Nairobi since it entered the local scene last year — doubling the number of drivers on its App and tripling the number of trips taken.

Uber entered the Kenyan market early last year, offering a crucial alternative for Nairobi residents with its low prices, and upsetting a market that has been under the grips of private taxi operators such as Jatco and Kenatco. Ms Allenberg, however, sought to play down the simmering conflict, saying Uber had opened talks with metered taxi associations for possible partnerships.
Uber’s pricing is hinged on a metering gauge that charges users for every kilometre covered - meaning every trip is openly priced, removing the need for negotiating each trip.
Riders in Nairobi pay Sh60 per a kilometre covered and Sh4 per minute in addition to a base fare of Sh100.

Uber has faced stiff opposition to its service across the globe, including South Africa where the traditional metered taxi drivers violently demonstrated against the US operator, pulling passengers out of the vehicles and threatening the drivers.

The protesters also claimed Uber had become a threat to their livelihood and that Uber cabs were getting preferential treatment from licensing authorities.
Uber has been fighting for its life in a number of countries, including India where the service was stopped after a girl was allegedly raped by an Uber driver in early December 2014.

New Delhi Transport Department banned the taxi hailing service after medical examination of the girl revealed signs of sexual assault and rape.

Last year, the highest court in France banned UberPOP — a low-cost ride sharing service which used drivers with no professional licence to pick up paying passengers.

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