A strike by online taxi drivers saw most vehicles stay off the roads Monday, more than doubling the charges for riders moving around the city.
Street taxis made booming business as Uber, Bolt and Little cab drivers participated in the mass boycott that is intended to push for doubling of customer charges.
Prices of the app-based services surged for most routes within Nairobi and its environs while customers faced long request times for rides that would ordinarily be available in a matter of few minutes.
The operators, through their umbrella lobby Digital Taxi Forum, sought audience with Nairobi County authorities to push for higher pay from the operators even as one online taxi hailing firm defended its business model.
“We are on strike,” said Rhayan Kanyandong’, the Digital Partners Society chairman. “The strike is being felt,” he added.
A trip from the city centre to Thindigua was priced at Sh1,010 on the UberX option at about 4.30pm Monday, more than double the ordinary charges.
A ride from the city centre to Ruiru was priced at Sh1,460 on UberX, also double the ordinary fare.
A ride on Bolt from the city centre to Buru Buru Estate was priced at Sh560, with a taxi waiting time of 14 minutes.
“Prices are higher than usual due to high demand,” the Bolt app warned customers.
Conventional taxis hiked their fares by between 10 and 20 percent to take advantage of the increased demand.
“I have made more trips today than in the recent past, in turn making more money,” said a taxicab driver outside the Nation Centre building.
The online cab drivers want Uber, a San Francisco-based taxi e-hailing giant, Estonian online taxi-hailing app Bolt (formerly known as Taxify) and the Safaricom-backed Little Cab to more than double the cost per kilometre of rides from the current Sh16 for Uber and Sh14 for Bolt, and Sh20 for Little to match the rates set by the Automobile Association of Kenya (AA) of Sh45 per kilometre.
They also want commissions for the apps to be standardised at 10 percent of the total earnings down from the current 25 percent charged by Uber and 15 percent charged by Bolt. Little has been charging a commission of five percent.
Uber maintained Monday it will only engage the drivers and partners direclty and not jointly as protesting groups.
The US firm said it will not engage with representatives formed by the drivers or groups.
“At Uber, we respect driver-partners as valuable partners with a voice and we want them to feel they can talk to us about anything at any time.
However, drivers are diverse in how they use the Uber app and it would be difficult for an individual or group to holistically represent every driver on the app,” Uber said.
“We regularly host partner roundtables for drivers to provide their feedback and drivers have a number of other channels available to engage with Uber including daily office hours, and 24/7 in-app support - we encourage drivers to use these established channels of communications.”
The firm added: “We are committed to our ongoing engagements with drivers and will continue to engage with any driver-partners who have individual concerns through the established channels available to them.”
Bolt officials did not respond to our queries by the time this story was filed.
According to Daniel Muteru, the chair of the Digital Taxi Association of Kenya, the online app firms had breached an earlier MoU committing to better pay after an 11-day strike last year.
He claimed there is a glut of repossessed vehicles by auctioneers from car owners as they have defaulted on bank loans as a result of the lower earnings.
“All we want is the earnings to be commensurate with what the business gets,” said Mr Muteru.