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Uber’s first five-months in Kampala

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Global taxi service operator struggles over unmet expectations

Uber drivers, or partners as the company likes to call them, in Kampala held a meeting with Uber managers on Oct. 18 to address teething challenges the global transporter is facing since it launched in June.

Top of the list during the meeting at the Uber main office on 1st Street in Industrial area were the usual discussion of Uber’s incentives structure and perks.

Drivers said the fares Uber asked them to charge were too low, especially as Uber takes 25% from every transaction. Many said Ugandan roads are not comparable to Europe so the cost of vehicle maintenance was higher and made the Uber pricing unrealistic.

One driver said a journey that earned him Shs10,000 ended up costing him Shs4 million in repairs after his VW Golf car hit a boulder that damaged its undercarriage.
The meeting came at a time when many drivers were agitated over alleged lack of responses to their complaints from the office.

“If you have a complaint to make, they tell you to send an email which is never replied to,” one un-named driver said.

“The promises we were given when the service entered the market are yet to be fulfilled,” another said, “they promised that every journey they will be paying extra Shs3000 yet that has never reflected on my income receipt when I go to pick it every week.”
Allegations of failure to respond are in sharp contrast with Uber’s proclaimed willingness to tackle challenges.

“We have established channels of communication and anyone can speak to us at any time. There are many ways driver-partners can let us know if they have any individual concerns,” said Uber Communications Associate for East Africa, Janet C. Kemboi, in an interview.

Kampala in June joined over 507 other cities worldwide that have Uber taxi services. The company which was founded by Travis Kalanick and Garret Kamp in 2009 has its headquarters in San Francisco, USA, generated revenue worth 1.5 billion dollars in 2015.

It offers a new transportation models built around private owners of individual cars offering them for hire using a communication App. supplied by Uber. The model has proved a hit in many cities all over world and spawned both cheers and jeers.

In the East African region, the service was first introduced in Nairobi in early 2015.

Its time convenience and low pricing style has seen many people abandon the old taxis.
The company has also partnered with financial institutions to enable its drivers to get affordable car loans using their ratings.

But the service has faced its share of challenges all over the world.

There have been incidences of Uber drivers attacking customers in some cities, while in others Uber has battled taxation issues and non-competitive practices from ordinary taxi drivers.

In Kenya two Uber affiliated cars were set alight. A driver was beaten up. The ordinary taxi drivers complain of unfair competition.

The firm has also faced challenges within itself, in many cities Uber drivers have gone on strike because of under cutting driver tariffs in order to lower fare for the customers and also to beat other competitors who are joining the growing business.

In Kenya, the service had to cut 35% of its price in August in order to ward off competition. The move led to a strike by over 100 Uber partner drivers.

Uber’s rough start in Kampala is music to drivers of the so-called special hire taxis which are the direct competition.

One of them, Issa Musisi, told The Independent that the fear of being out-competed by Uber has eased.

He says his taxi rates beat Uber on long journeys and are competitive on town-runs.
“The customers that come back tell me that most drivers are disconnecting their apps and give their own fares. They are not following the laws of Uber,” he says.
Musisi says the Uber model looks good on paper though.

“If Uber was to follow up on its promises and the drivers were to become disciplined then it’s a service would become very successful in Kampala,” he says, “Even I would be willing to join.”

Musisi’s view is echoed by several other special hire drivers. One said he was told to pay Shs3 million to join Uber when, in fact, it is free of charge. That is another piece of misinformation and a clear sign that Uber needs to do some public information campaigns.

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