Will Uber appeal to ‘classy’ Kenyans?

UBER application shown as cars drive by in Washington, DC. FILE PHOTO | NMG
UBER application shown as cars drive by in Washington, DC. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Uber introduced a high-end option for Kenyans a few weeks ago— UberSELECT— which it said was a “new way to get around Nairobi in style.”

It is an upgrade from UberX and it has promised affordable comfort and luxury, making it ideal for special events like a date night with your partner or an important business meeting.

I have tried UberSELECT in Dubai where thanks to the law, prices are about 30 per cent higher than regular taxis. The ride that showed up was a Lexus.

I was excited to try UberSELECT just after it launched in Nairobi.

One evening, I hailed a cab and tapped on the UberSELECT option. I got a call from the driver and about three minutes later, I stepped out to find my ride waiting: a Toyota Premio.

The base fare for UberSELECT is Sh100 against UberX’s Sh80. It costs Sh43 per kilometre against Sh33.60 per kilometre, and the respective minimum fare is Sh300 versus Sh200. Before the roll-out of this new service, you could have likely gotten the Toyota Premio at a cheaper cost on UberX. After Uber Kenya introduced the ‘upgrade’, their competitor Taxify rolled out Taxify Comfort which follows the exact mechanism albeit at a fee of Sh250.

In other markets such as Europe and the US, cars that arrive to pick you up on the UberSELECT include BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class and Cadillac SRX, all complete with leather interiors.

In Kenya, about 20 car models are on this new grade including Toyota Axio, Fielder, Noah, Prius and Sienta. There is a disparity given the type of cars on the same service in other markets.

Uber’s most luxurious and consequently expensive level is UberLUX which is available in select markets like Las Vegas and Los Angeles and allows one to be chauffeured in cars like Tesla Model S, Mercedes Benz S-Class and BMW 7-Series.

There is also UberBLACK which as the name suggests, is typically a black SUV or luxury sedan.

Is UberSELECT giving its Kenyan users a raw deal?

Janet Kemboi, the Uber spokesperson for East Africa says UberSELECT was launched in Kenya with ‘‘specific models of sedans and seven-seaters that are available and sustainable in this market.’’

‘‘It provides more choice to riders in Kenya and the cars are driven by their most highly rated driver-partners,’’ she said.

When the service was rolled out, drivers who have completed over 300 trips with a 4.7 rating and eligible vehicles as per the standards set for Nairobi automatically received UberSELECT requests in addition to UberX. Taxify Comfort emulated the same process.

‘‘It [UberSELECT] caters for special occasions such as business meetings, trips to the airport and events such as weddings, birthdays and date nights,’’ Ms Kemboi said.

Arrive in style

As the company looks to grow in this market, it faces competition from luxury car hire firms targeting wealthy Kenyans who have no qualms spending more to arrive to a birthday or wedding event in style.

Over the years, firms such as Lesus Executive have targeted the weddings market and companies that want their executives or VVIP investors chauffeured around Nairobi.

Dan Njoroge who started the company four years ago says he hires out top-of-the-range vehicles such as Range Rover Escalades, limousines, Mercedes S-Class complete with vintage motorcycle escorts.

‘‘This market is different and UberSELECT is not necessarily a threat, but only if it brings in top-of-range cars such Range Rovers and Chryslers. My clients go to red carpet events, they would not want to show up in an Axio,’’ he says.

Also, Mr Njoroge says, Uber may not easily get driver-partners with high-end cars.

‘‘I deal with individual car owners and they earn between Sh20,000 to Sh60,000 a day, and depending on the number of days that a person hires a vehicle, someone can get up to Sh120,000 in a few days,’’ he says.

If UberSELECT is targeting the high-end market, it also faces competition from normal airport taxis and hotels such as Villa Rosa Kempinski and dusitD2 which have opted for more luxurious rides such as a BMW X5 and 5 Series, Chryslers, Range Rover Sports & HSE and Porsche Cayennes to pick and drop their visitors who are mainly business travellers.