Uber ride service has been much in the news in recent years. As the platform has expanded around the globe, so has the opposition against it grown, particularly by taxi drivers. They have a genuine reason to be concerned on what their business will be in the coming years. Taxi industry is highly regulated in many countries, but Uber drivers operate more or less on “wild” basis (it is worth reminding that unofficial taxis have always been common in many countries, long before the emergence of Uber). Uber itself does not operate vehicles, instead it provides a software platform to connect drivers with customers, and facilitating the payment. That makes determining its legal status a complicated matter. So far Uber has been at least partially banned in number of places, like Berlin and the whole of Spain. While legality of Uber is questionable in most jurisdictions, the service enjoys considerable public support. A service like Uber is a way forward, like most forms of digitalization. Not embracing development is a step backwards, a poor policy. That’s why Uber should be here to stay, but the service has to conform to local conditions, and admit it is not above others.
The level of play should be even, thus Uber drivers should be subject to similar regulations than all other taxi drivers. But on the other hand, laws and regulations should be modified to accommodate Uber and other similar services. For example, the pricing model of Uber may contradict local regulations. Many Uber drivers operate only part-time. Should they be subject to same license fees and taxation as professional drivers? Then comes the question what is the difference between ride-sharing and taxi service, and its legal implications. Yet another issue is whether Uber vehicles be branded as taxis? Many drivers may may be against this, as they use their cars for private use as well. It is not necessary for Uber vehicles to be distinguished as taxis, since Uber rides are always ordered via the smartphone app, not by hailing them on the street. Some passengers may feel more comfortable if the vehicle looks like a taxi, though.
Despite its short history, Uber has already entered African continent. According to Uber website, the service now operates in four African countries, in nine cities. These are Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Cairo, Alexandria, Casablanca, Lagos and Nairobi. Like elsewhere, taxi drivers have been strongly against Uber in these cities. Things turned nasty recently in Nairobi where taxi drivers attacked Uber drivers and their vehicles.
(UPDATE March 23, 2016: Uber expands to Mombasa in Kenya and Abuja in Nigeria)
The potential of Uber in cities in developing world lies in lack of proper public transport, and unreliable existing taxi services. However, apart from resistance by taxi drivers, Uber faces various challenges when operating in Africa. Uber users need a smartphone, while credit cars is usually needed for payments. Not many African hold these items. Then on the other hand, those who have, are likely to be the ones who can afford an Uber ride. Tourists will find Uber an attractive alternative, as they commonly get ripped off by taxi drivers. Uber has more clear pricing plan, despite its controversial surge pricing.
In South Africa Uber is already well established, having gained popularity by being cheaper, safer and more practical alternative to old-fashioned taxis. In Nairobi the service has been operating only for a year, but similar experiences are being heard from local residents too. I anticipate the service will keep expanding, and hoping Uber will soon find its way to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, that’s where I’ve taken rides by some of the worst taxi drivers!