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Uber, regular taxis rivalry turns ugly as drivers fight

A man uses an Uber 4 Business app to hail a taxi. PHOTO | FILE
A man uses an Uber 4 Business app to hail a taxi. PHOTO | FILE 

Business rivalry between regular Nairobi street cabs and the online taxi-hailing service Uber took an ugly turn Monday as more reports emerged of physical confrontation between drivers of the two groups.

Uber Technologies, however, insisted that cases of intimidation and harassment of its drivers are isolated, even as alleged hate messages circulated on the social media.

The traditional street taxis have resorted to bullying Uber drivers hoping to push them out of the city, arguing that they are taking away their business. The taxi drivers have even formed social media groups and held meetings to scheme ways of driving Uber out of Nairobi.

The street taxi drivers have complained over Uber’s cheap pricing model that is pre-determined by kilometre coverage and time spent.

Riders in Nairobi pay Sh60 per kilometre covered and Sh4 per minute in addition to a base fare of Sh100. Mainstream taxis in Nairobi charge an average of Sh600 to Westlands from the Central Business District while Uber charges about Sh300.

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A statement posted Monday on Uber’s website shows that the IT firm is aware of the attacks on its partner drivers but insisted that the cases were rare.

“Recently, you may have heard of cases of isolated intimidation towards Uber driver-partners. These cases shock and sadden us, as these driver-partners are simply using the Uber platform to earn a living for themselves and their families,” read the Uber statement.

Uber Africa spokesperson Samantha Allenberg said that there was a lot of speculation (regarding attacks on Uber drivers) on Twitter but insisted that no injuries had been reported.

Ms Allenberg told the Business Daily that the tech firm was working with stakeholders in Nairobi to solve the conflict as a matter of urgency.

“We hope tourists, business travellers and residents alike can enjoy a safe, affordable, hassle-free time travelling, however, they choose to get around Nairobi,” she said.

Kenya Taxi Cab Association officials were unavailable for comment despite numerous attempts to contact them.

Uber has since last year reached out to the local taxi associations to form partnerships partly as a way of ensuring a better working environment for its partner drivers in Nairobi.

“We have 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,” she said.

Harassment of Uber Taxi drivers started in January, prompting the tech firm to send a message to caution the drivers a week ago after incidents were reported to have taken place at the Oval — a commercial block in Westlands.

The hostility from the regular taxi operators drove the tech company to put its drivers on alert.

“Please be alert and aware in this area by concealing your Uber device and ensuring that your pickups and drop offs take place in public, well lit areas. In case of intimidation, please report to police and Uber,” read the message from Uber to its drivers.

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