Lagos Taxi Drivers Groan As Uber Popularity Rises | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Lagos Taxi Drivers Groan As Uber Popularity Rises

taxi; uber
Posted: Jun 16, 2016 at 4:06 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)
Hazeez Balogun

Uber driver

Lagos – Change they say is the only constant thing in life and in this world of internet, change seems to be moving at breakneck speed. Those in business will attest to this.

According to Forbes magazine, “the future of small businesses is the internet.” The magazine in a special report on the future of small business projects that over 70 percent of of them would have a presence online by 2020 and 50percent of those would be solely online businesses.

Many businesses in Nigeria are following suit. A lot of business owners are already using social media to promote their wares. Some only trade online and nowhere else. Konga, Jumia, Deal Day, Wakanow, and even many newspapers have turned online for business, and the list is growing by the day.

Most of these businesses are not new concepts but conversions of traditional business models into online ones. A good example is Uber.

Uber is a taxi service that allows passengers call for cabs from the comfort of their phones. It offers them ease, safety and sometimes even cheaper fares.

The model is still very new in Nigeria but is already gaining ground especially in big cities like Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. The model has been adopted in cities around the world and has proven a big success everywhere it works. According to Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC), Uber Worldwide made over $12b this year alone, and is currently worth $66b making it one of the largest tech companies in the world. All these for a company that is barely eight years old.

The incursion of Uber into the Nigeria market is seen as a good sign. Uber only operates in a few third world countries because of the lack of proper infrastructure. Coming to Nigeria only means the country is doing better that most in terms of road networks. It is also good news for passengers who will enjoy the advantages of their services.

But not all are happy with Uber. Despite their open policy which allows anyone to be a cab operator under their scheme, traditional taxi drivers are seeing Uber as a big threat to their livelihood. They believe taxi passengers have become scarce on the roads just because of Uber.

We need to know how Uber works to understand how it is alienating traditional taxi drivers on the roads.

Uber is a light application that can be downloaded on a phone, tablet or on the computer. It allows users to choose destinations they want to go and then ask for the nearest Uber cab to come and pick them up.

To be a cab operator under this institution, one needs to follow some steps. Then they get alerts from Uber telling them there is a passenger close by who needs a ride. The operator can choose to accept or decline the job. If they do accept, they will drop off the passenger at their destination without collecting money.  Passengers would have already paid Uber online, and once a week, Uber calculates how much the operator has made that week and credit their account.

Uber billing has two options; either per time or per distance. The rates also differ depending on the newness of the cars and the city they operate. For example a 2006 car in Lagos will attract a rate of N90 per kilometer, same car in Abuja is N50 per kilometer. There is also a premium service which involves new model cars and passengers pay as high as N110 per kilometer.

The popularity of Uber stems from the numerous advantages it has over traditional taxi. One can call a taxi from the safety of the home and they will come to pick you in front of the house. With the current kidnapping rate many seek a safety. With Uber, every driver is duly registered and they can be tracked down if they act badly. One can easily get back items that may be forgotten in the cab. Also they can pay little for little distance.

For the Uber cab operators, it allows them to get customers without roving around and wasting fuel. They get customers that are close to their current locations, and they do not have to carry around cash or worry about looking for change.

All these are what worry the traditional taxi drivers. Taxi drivers who are used to driving around to pick customers are finding out that there are less and less customers on the street.

Alhaji Are Magaji, the head of taxi drivers in Ikosi area of Lagos State got agitated and angry the moment the word Uber was mentioned. According to him business has been slow lately and he attributed all of it to the emergence of Uber. In a chat with him, it was clear he does not understand how Uber works and he thinks, it is a device by the government to push them out of business.

Speaking in Yoruba he says “I don’t know how they are allowing them to operate. It is a deliberate effort to push us out. Are these Uber people registered? Do they know the roads like we do? That is the same thing they did with BRT, today they have removed ‘Molue’ out of the road. They are doing the same thing with taxi.”

When the reporter corrected him that Uber is not a government organisation, Magaji continues to insist government has a hand in it. “Our business is dwindling. If you go on the street the number of passengers is small. Remember petrol is now expensive, so we are burning fuel as we move around. How do they want us to survive?” asks Magaji.

Many of the taxi drivers that spoke with our reporter seems to have the same view as Magaji. They confirmed that the number of passengers have dropped since Uber started operations and they believe the government has a hand in it.

Kayode Damilare, another taxi driver was however more educated on how Uber operates; he sees the issue differently. “Uber is good but I believe that there is still room for we taxi drivers. There will always be passengers on the road. Is it everybody that has a smart phone? Many people cannot also wait for Uber to come to their house, it is easier to go on the street and stop a taxi. There is always room for new things and we have to evolve with it.”

When asked why he has not joined the online service as a cab operator, Kayode said, “their wahala is too much,” but fails to explain why.

From research we find out why many traditional taxi drivers have not joined Uber and have decided to continue doing business as they have always done.
Firstly, Uber accepts only cab operators who drive cars that are made in 2006 and later. Only recently did they reduce it to 2003 to allow more operators to join them. As we all know, most of the taxis in Lagos are rickety cars many of which are over 25 years old.

Also, the billing method is not favorable to them. With Uber, there is a fixed rate. This does not give room for unfair hikes that are common during peculiar conditions. For example when it rains in Lagos or it is very late at night, taxi drivers usually increase their rates since passengers have little choice than to patronise them.

To be an Uber car operator, one also needs to have an up to date car papers and driver’s license, something many taxi drivers lack, and are used to bribing their ways out of arrests. A comprehensive insurance is also required, these costs over N100,000, a big deterrent.

Uber drivers are also forced to pay tax. In fact, tax will be deducted before they are paid for the work they have done. Traditional taxi drivers easily evade tax since it is difficult to calculate what they have made. These and other factors have made many taxi drivers to avoid joining the new fad.

Uber cab drivers confirm that they are indeed making more money than their traditional counterparts and they get far more jobs.

Gbenro Ogundipe is a graduate who drives a Uber cab. According to him the pay is comfortable and can be compared to white collar jobs, if not better.

According to Ogundipe, Uber drivers get 75 percent of the fare, while the remaining 25 percent goes to Uber. He says if he pays toll fees, he is refunded by Uber.

Talking about how the scheme works and how to make more money, he says that it makes more sense to operate with a fuel efficient car. “It is a no-brainer. You’re going to be driving around a lot, so a fuel-efficient car is needed if you don’t want to spend all your money on fuel. Hyundai Accent, Toyota Corolla or Kia Rio are the best.” He says he makes up to N100,000 a week while he spends about half of that on fuel and maintenance.

On the other hand, the traditional taxi driver makes less than N60,000 a week.

This new crop of ‘taxi drivers’ are the future of the trade. They are doing a legal job while offering safer, and better services. But despite the popularity of Uber, there will still be jobs for the groaning taxi drivers.