I have been a big fan of Uber for nearly three years, ever since I first used the service a few years ago in India. When Uber came to Tanzania during Ramadan, I was overjoyed. However, it got a lukewarm reception amongst many, as most new things in Tanzania do.
I began using Uber since its inception on June 16 last month, when they introduced the taxi-hailing mobile phone technology service free for few days. Every ride that I took last month had been easier, faster to obtain and cheaper too. However, the majority of the rides I took, after a price tag was pinned on the rides, were not easily available, especially from where I reside.
During my first ride, I loaded the Uber application on my smartphone a few hours before the adventure. One of the first aspects after the sign up, the application will request to turn on your location. A location map appeared on the screen, which was able to tell me how many minutes the closest Uber taxi was away from my pick-up point.
Upon clicking the black bar requesting for the Uber, a photo of my driver and the make and model of his vehicle, including the registration number appeared on the screen, as well as a map of his location and indicator showing how many minutes it would be before he arrived.
In about twelve minutes since I tapped 'request for Uber', the application denoted that the taxi had arrived. As I rushed out, there was a normal taxi with similar details that matched on the phone. I always prefer sitting in the front when I am alone, it makes me feel more egalitarian.
The driver gave me a welcome note, greeted me and shut the windows. He then turned on the car's air conditioner and gently asked if I was ready to go. It felt surreal; was this really the same white taxi that the residents bargain, negotiate and convince drivers on pricing before they head out to their destination? As far as I remember, everything in Tanzania can be bargained. But it wasn't the case this time.
In learning more about how the system worked in Tanzania, my driver Kisoda who is stationed in Ilala said, "We had a brief training a few days back, but I am still digesting the system. We got a smart phone from the service providers, Uber." His phone showed that he is 'on trip with me' and he had the option to either contact me and or cancel the trip.
Upon asking him on how he got to know about Uber and why he joined, he said, "The taxi head of the stations informed us about the system and it is definitely a new thing in the industry, so I want to try it out and understand it. Since the service is free for a few days, I am not sure how it is going to work out on the pricing structure, but I am hoping to get more customers and keep myself more busy throughout the day."
It took about 25 minutes to reach Kariakoo from Tabata, a distance that would have taken not less than 90 minutes using public transport.
When the drama began
Last week, I boarded an Uber taxi from Kariakoo to Oysterbay. Conversing with the driver, under the condition of anonymity, he told me to pay him extra money on the amount Uber system would show, because he came from a far distance to pick me. Taken aback, I responded saying he had the option to cancel.
"If I cancel, my rating as a driver will drop, and I want to build a good rapport with the service providers. A client is always a blessing but the challenge is to come and get you, that covers quite a distance, and neither the client nor the service providers compensate that time and fuel used. We only begin charging you from the pick-up point to destination, which is also another issue altogether," the driver retorted.
He continued, "You know some of my clients, who are just like you (based upon my race), call me to come closer to their destination so that they can book Uber through me. I do that, and they pay me extra S000 to Sh3000 for doing that."
When we arrived at my destination, the fare amounted to Sh6000. When I handed him a note of S0,000, the question popped, "So are you giving me an incentive, just like your fellows?" When I refused to pay the incentive, he retorted saying he did not have enough change to give, hence he returned Sh3500. He grumbled on saying as I got out of the taxi, "I don't trust this system, sometimes they pay cash and sometimes they say they will pay by bank." I was mute.
Challenges of the taxi drivers
So what do drivers really think about the Internet taxi-hailing service of Uber in Tanzania? On a recent Uber ride in Dar es Salaam city, I had a conversation with a driver who agreed to a candid conversation about what it's like to be an Uber driver, little quirks on his experience and why some drivers are challenging the system.
It was Peter Andrea Mwambungu's 12th trip of the day, and this is what he told me. "I don't find much of a difference in terms of profit after joining the Uber system, which I did two weeks ago. In fact, the good part is that I do find myself busy through out the day, but it amounts to the same price."
Peter further added that on a normal taxi, he uses 50kms, and about four trips, of which he gets a sum of Sh35,000 to Sh50,000. In contrast to using Uber to provide service to the residents of Dar es Salaam, he uses 120kms, about 12 trips and roughly earns Sh30,000 to Sh35,000.
"If I am using a normal taxi to serve the commuters, I earn probably a good gross sum of Sh60,000 to Sh70,000 per day and an extra S5,000 to give to my boss. With Uber, since other customers prefer to pay via bank, last week I earned a sum of Sh256,000 that reflected on my account (per week) and had about Sh90,000 on hand, from which 25 per cent is cut as Uber's share," Peter explained the math.
For Peter, the Global Positioning System (GPS) sometimes confuses him. "At times, I have to call the client to ask them where they are. Sometimes the map shows that your client is in Swahili street, while he or she is perhaps on Tandamti Street," a challenge Peter added.
"I cannot affirm whether it is profitable or not at the moment. What I am doing for this week, is collecting all the fuel receipts, calculate the sum on hand and the sum in the bank, and then come up with a tentative answer, whether this is profitable or not. Though, I am a little disappointed with the fares that are calculated because they are too low for someone who is covering a long distance."
Ambiguous fares and a poor deal for drivers are among concerns raised by taxi drivers in Dar es Salaam. Just like Peter Mwambungu, many taxi drivers around town have expressed their unhappiness over the Internet ride-sharing service, cutting their shares by up to 25 per cent.
One of the taxi drivers, Victor Paul stationed at Posta, said, "I see and hear my fellow taxi drivers complain about the low price deals, and upon seeing this challenge, I decided not to join the Uber system. For example, someone might request an Uber taxi all the way from Posta to Kinondoni, but the client covers only a small distance of the minimum price Sh3000, out of which Uber cuts its 25 per cent. Who do you think is at loss and who do you think is making profit?" questions the non-Uber taxi driver.
He added a suggestion, "If Uber wants to maximise their system to taxi drivers and to encourage them to join, they need to re-work on their pricing, for instance, normal taxi charge a sum of Sh5000 for town trips, but with Uber system, we can offer a lower price such as Sh4000."
Former and current Uber drivers are meeting this week with the Mayor of Dar es Salaam to raise their concerns on the challenges they are facing with the Uber system.
"I don't want to talk much, but if you want to know more, you should be present at the meeting at Karimjee hall where the normal taxi drivers and the taxis who have joined Uber system are going to vent out the frustrations and challenges they have faced in the past one month and come up with a joint solution on how to tackle various issues."
Another driver opposite Haidery Plaza who happens to be one of the heads of Chama Cha Madereva Taxi Tanzania added; "if Uber wants to bring the system to Tanzania, they should get inputs from the drivers first and adhere to how things work over here, not just cement the same model of America here."
Source: The Citizen.