Kenyan taxi drivers want Uber out

It’s happening in Kenya. Uber has had it good for months but Nairobi street cabs cannot take it anymore; the taxi hailing service is eating a huge chunk off their profit. While reports of physical confrontation between drivers of the two groups have emerged in the past, Uber had always insisted that cases of intimidation and harassment of its drivers were isolated. But now, members of the Kenya Taxi Cab Association are referring to the 2015 entry of Uber taxi services into Nairobi as ‘neo-colonialism’ of the transport sector and have asked the American company to leave.

The taxi drivers have complained that Uber’s cheap pricing model is driving them out of business. To ride in a Uber taxi in Nairobi costs Sh60 per kilometre and Sh4 per minute, in addition to a base fare of Sh100. The total cost of riding with Uber is often half of what it would cost riding on other taxis. It is, therefore, an easy choice for people in Nairobi to make.

On Wednesday, taxi drivers in Kenya issued a seven-day ultimatum to the government to kick Uber out of Nairobi or risk the paralysis of the transport sector which they would ensure.

Spokesman of the Taxi Cab Association, Mwangi Mubia described Uber as “a man trying to steal a neighbour’s wife.”

Although he claimed that the association was ready to go digital, saying: “we are consulting our counterparts from the East African region for us to develop a similar application (like Uber),” but Uber has to leave. “Why do they want to kick us out of business?” he asked.

The taxi drivers complained that Uber is not compliant with requirements imposed by the County and National Governments and this makes it easy for them to offer cheaper services. Taxi drivers pay several levies, including a monthly parking fee of Sh6,000 and inspection fee of Sh5,000. Similar levies that are not paid by Uber drivers have been the subject of anti-Uber protests in several cities around the world.

The company has faced several battles in South Africa, where it entered in 2013, from assault of drivers to the threatening of passengers. The Metered Taxi Council of South Africa had insisted that Uber drivers get the necessary licences and comply with the rules and regulations guiding public transport like other drivers. But Uber has continued to claim that those rules do not apply, as it is not a transport company, only a Smartphone application.

“Our technology is open and pro-choice and we are keen to offer it to a broad number of taxi drivers to boost their occupancy rates and chances for profit. In fact many metered taxi drivers are already using our technology to boost their incomes, and we would welcome more who wish to join their colleagues,” Uber’s general manager for sub-Saharan Africa Alon Lits was quoted by to have said.

Uber Kenya has also reached out to the taxi drivers to join the service.

“Uber’s technology is open and available to all. Many taxi drivers have already signed up to use the Uber app as a way to increase the number of trips they make on a daily basis and boost their chances for profit, and we welcome more who want to join,” the company said on its website on Monday. But members of the Taxi Cab Association are not impressed.

For many Kenyans, the message to the taxi drivers is to leave Uber alone and innovate.