Uber taxi wars: A classic example of a revolutionary idea vs a rigid status quo

Over the past several weeks, Kenyans have witnessed one of the ugliest confrontations between key stakeholders in Nairobi city’s public transport sector.

Tension has been rising each day in a feud pitting traditional taxi operators – under their umbrella union Kenya Taxi Cab Association (KTCA) – on one side and the relatively new Uber taxi service on the other.

At the centre of the dispute is the entry of Uber into Kenya and subsequent instant popularity, a development that has left KTCA operators feeling exposed and uncertain of their future in Nairobi’s multibillion taxi business.

But perhaps before wading into the KTCA –Uber fight, it would be of paramount importance for one to first acquit himself with the entire Uber story and how the multinational had fared in other countries before being quick to comment on the Kenyan situation.

In a nutshell, Uber is an online taxi service that enables you to access a cab simply downloading and installing the Uber mobile application on your smart phone.

Uber rates are standardized

Most of the time, Uber charges are almost half of what the KTCA cabs would charge you. The rates are standardized and regulated. At no point in time can the Uber driver be able to overcharge you. If you are comfortable, you proceed to request a cab and Uber goes ahead to locate one of their cabs which is nearest to your current location. They notify the driver who then calls you and before you realize it he is there to pick you. It is that simple and convenient.

The entire process takes just a few minutes.

A spot check on how Uber was received when introduced even in the highly overrated Occidental countries confirmed my earlier suspicions – that the Kenyan situation was not an isolated one.   You dont need to be a university professor to realise that the introduction of a radical concept like Uber – an idea that would definitely alter the socio-economic and political equilibrium of any society – can never go unchallenged.

Even in nations that boasted of practicing the latest versions of 21st Century democracy which encourages a conducive environment for private enterprise, traditional taxi drivers had put up a vicious battle against Uber just as their Kenyan counterparts are now doing.  But what is most alarming in the Kenyan situtation is the fact that the confrontations have taken a violent route with Uber on the receiving end. So far, a good number of their taxis have been callously attacked and even razed down.

As expected, Uber blames KTCA for these unfortunate events, accusations KTCA dismisses as malicious and unfounded.  And perhaps in an effort to flex its muscle, KTCA has called a number of press conferences during which, the taxi drivers have issued strong worded statements counter-accusing Uber as the real architects of the current problems in the taxi business.

The Union accuses Uber of introducing unrealistically low charges for their taxi services, a move KTCA argues is unfair and unsustainable.  And to further drive their point home, KTCA has issued ultimatums upon whose expirely, Uber Kenya should have exited the taxi business or face dire consequences.  However, one does need FBI type investigation skills to unravel that indeed it is KTCA that is getting it all wrong.

By all means, KTCA has repeatedly taken a hardline stance which is unnecessarily conservative if not ignorant. Their arguments so far are baseless and their ultimatums outrightly selfish. Almost every move they make smells of mischief.

On the other hand, if you wanted to contract the services of a KTCA cab, you will have to physically locate one – sometimes there is none in sight – and then bargain hours on end for the charges. Actually most of the times, you end up overcharged – unless it is your lucky day and such are rare – when the overcharge will be a bit less.

Woe unto you if the driver does not like you or you appear to have taken one too many. The overcharge atrocity against you is a story for another day. You are simply at the mercy of the driver. Standardization of charges is an alien concept in the world of KTCA taxi operators.

In addition, using Uber taxi services is relatively secure since any misconduct by the driver can be directly reported to the company and action taken. Malpractices in KTCA cabs go

But perhaps the sweetest part of the Uber taxi narrative is the fact that the first ride with their cabs is free. Many more free rides come along the way as you continue to use the service. As Kenyans, our appetite for free things is an open secret. For the entire period I have been a resident of Nairobi, I have never heard of a free ride from KTCA taxis.

Is it therefore not rational to conclude that Uber is a splendid idea which has come to Kenya when we needed it most?

The question on whether Uber will successfully weather the current storm and survive in the Kenyan market can only be answered by time.

However, you can be guaranteed that the wind of a digital revolution in our transport sector will soon be sweeping all the corners of our republic.

A paradigm shift is in the offing and it is inevitable. That is fact. A fact that is stubborn and does not change because you disagree with it.

Personally, I would like to welcome Uber to Kenya, the land of possibilities. This I do because I believe in getting value for every coin I pay to get a service and Uber Kenya appears to concur with this school of thought.

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