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Uber, other digital taxi drivers strike over poor returns

An Uber mobile application. FILE PHOTO | NMG
An Uber mobile application. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

A number of drivers affiliated to online taxi-hailing firms in Nairobi Monday went on strike over claims of poor returns from the business.

The move led to a price surge in the morning and unavailability of taxis in some of the digital taxi platforms.

Drivers with Uber, Taxify, Mondo-Ride and Little have vowed to stay away from work until their business conditions and returns improve.

The drivers have decried the “un-ending offers” and “high commissions” taken by the tech firms.

“We are being exploited by these companies and we are tired of it. There is no sensible profits we are making, the terms have to change for everyone to be happy,” said Daniel Omondi, the taxi drivers’ representative.

In the afternoon, tens of drivers gathered outside of City Hall in the afternoon, honking their horns and announcing demands to passersby.

"The problem with the companies is that they're not ready to listen to us,” said Daniel Omondi, the chairman of the Online Platform for Taxis Association.

“When we write an e-mail, they don't respond. We are tired of this. That's why we are on the street.”

Demands

Mr Omondi told theNation that the Online Platform for Taxis Association had written a memo with demands to the companies, but that the statement could not be shared with the media or the public as of yet.

He did, however say that they want a fare increase:  “Currently we are working for Sh60 [per kilometre]. We can negotiate; but not for less than that,” he said.

Joseph, a driver who preferred not have his last name used, said that drivers are suffering due to low rates.

“Because of the competition with other apps, they keep on reducing their prices. In the long run, it's us: the partners and drivers who are losing. We are being oppressed,” he said.

Joseph wants all apps to pay drivers the same rate.

"Cutthroat prices and competition - we don't want it,” he added. “We just want where every application to be uniform. It's for the client to choose which application he or she wants to use."

Uber currently charges a 25 per cent commission on each ride, while apps like Taxify and Little charge 15 per cent.

Slow traffic

Traffic was slow on Monday afternoon as Nation staff made their way to Uber’s office in Chiromo, where drivers intended to deliver a memo to Uber staff, before doing  the same at Taxify and Little’s headquarters.

Drivers affiliated with the different apps stalled traffic and displayed placards. One read: “We have worked long hours, even our wives are complaining!”

The atmosphere inside the Uber office, on the other hand, was strangely calm. Customers stood in line at information desks quietly, while soft music played in the waiting area.

Staff at the Uber office were unwilling to comment on the strike. However, later, Uber spokesperson Janet Kemboi sent a statement to the Nation on the strike.

“We have established channels of communication and any driver-partner can speak to us at any time. There are many ways driver-partners can let us know if they have any individual concerns.

"We have GLH (Green Light Hub) offices where drivers can come and speak to us about their individual concerns throughout the week. 

"Uber succeeds when our partners succeed and our teams are working hard everyday to find even more ways for drivers using the app to thrive,” she said in her email.

Not the first time

This is not the first time taxi-hailing app driver have gone on strike.

In March 2017, Uber Kenya was forced to increase its fare by 20 per cent after drivers went on strike over low profits.

The previous year, Uber had cut its fare to Sh 35 per kilometre, after Little - backed by Safaricom Ltd - began offering lower prices.

But money has not been the only challenge for Uber employees; many have faced hostility from other taxi drivers.

In March 2016, six men were charged with malicious damage to property and attempted murder following an  attack on an Uber driver.

Commenting on the most recent strike, Uber driver Shelton Onchoka, said that he is prepared to stop working until his demands are met. "Currently we are not able to make a living,” he said. "We will continue until they hear us."

Little, Taxify and Mondo did not respond to requests for a comment by the Nation, on the strike.

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