Uber is good on the outside, but inside, the mood is somber, like a death scene.
I look at the time. It is 8.15pm sharp. We have just completed a dinner with a visiting friend from Tanzania. He signals his departure and I announce that I am about to get him an uber back to his hotel.
I tap the uber app and wait. The driver is a few meters from where we are, and the app indicates he will take 1 minute to get to us. We leave our seats and wait outside. After about three minutes, we call him but he does not respond.
In another five minutes, the app now indicates he is leaving the CBD. We call him again and he does not pick. 15 minutes later, we are still struggling to reach him.
To our utter shock, the driver initiates the cancellation and we get charged a cancellation fee.
We request for another one and the request/driver just disappears on the screen.
Across the street, there are double parked taxis, with yellow taxi lightboxes on the roof. We walk across and find one driver looking at the uber app, he is obviously a disguised uber driver.
We ask him whether he can take us to Kiambu road, he agrees and says “uber would have charged you kes400, so I will charge you the same”, essentially avoiding the 25% Uber commission.
I like uber, you just tap the app on your phone and you get shuttled to where you want in a matter of minutes, without the hustle of having to endure driving on the horrible Nairobi roads or the careless matatus.
But that is where it ends.
Uber, the epitome of digital disruption, is a mixed bag of good and bad, a reminder of neo-slavery.
So, I enquire from the Uber driver why they are behaving this way. In fact, he gets quite upset.
“Go to any Uber drivers house and tell me whether you can find electronics for Ksh20,000 ($200). Why should I drive drunk guys around town for free? Look at this vehicle, from here to Westlands and back it will consume Ksh200 fuel, yet I will have charged the client 200 and uber will have taken their 20 – 25% commission, what am I working for? Why are we working for someone who does not care or understand us?”
I tell him to calm down because I am not the uber guy.
His answers are telling….
This week I have taken uber nearly every day.
Each time I am about to alight, the driver reads out the fare. Ksh420 or Ksh460. He painfully stretches his hand to take the money, as he closes the current trip to try source for a lucky trip back to his station so as to at least to cover his fuel cost, the pain in his eyes all too visible. This is the same distance we used to pay Ksh1300 or Ksh1700.
“Now how do I feed my family with this kind of remuneration? I have to work like a donkey, without rest for me to put a meal on the table for my family. How am I supposed to run my life like this”? One uber guy asked me when I tipped him and he was quite impressed prompting me to ask why the tip meant so much for him.
Now, look, uber in its monstrous quest to dominate the market has dropped taxi service prices in Kenya to dangerously low levels. Levels that are unsustainable and exploitative to the drivers and unable to afford decent lives.
In its quest for utter domination, it seems to negate the very concept of “Live and let live”. Its motto seems to be, kill all other players and remain as the only player in the market, then raise your prices to make a kill from your now monopoly status.
In trying to kill all other taxi players and achieve a monopoly, Uber is draining the blood and life out of its drivers.
Consumers are happy that prices are this low, however, this is exactly what happened with Safaricom. They started by being the cheapest player in the market, gained a commanding consumer majority, and now they are the price leaders, even the Kenya Competition Authority will take direction from them.
As you step into that uber, how do you feel when you pay the driver next to nothing. How is this driver supposed to be the one to finance your drinking sprees around town?
As right-thinking consumers, we should reject what is unfair pricing especially when it is being financed by the same person who needs the money for a livelihood.
The Taxi drivers’ lamentations, go-slows and even strikes to create awareness around this obvious market malpractice have fallen on deaf government ears and now it is time for the public to question the model because sooner or later, it is this same public that will bear the brunt of a rogue monopoly. As the African saying goes, we are feeding a monster that will feed on us later.
Of course, the Kenya Competition Authority is asleep now and will wake up years later to hoodwink Kenyans that it is doing something to help a situation that would already be bad.
Instead of enslaving our drivers who are trying to make a decent living out of taxi services, Uber should finance their quest for monopoly by foregoing their commissions and plowing some of the profits they make to compensate the drivers.