Uber in Nairobi: The Death of the Taxi?

Uber launched in Kenya in late January. Its efficiency and convenience has quickly made the Uber concept popular across the world. But, for Nairobi, is Uber truly better than getting a taxi?

Most people would argue that Uber, compared to regular taxi services, is safer and more secure to ride. According to Alude, an Uber driver, “If an Uber driver decides to do something bad to a client, he can easily be traced through the system, so if you complain they will go through the record and find out who picked the personage and catch him.” Therefore, with the existence of a system, personal safety is almost guaranteed. Taxi drivers, on the other hand, don’t have a system that monitors their actions. The only thing that control them is morality. This doesn’t imply that all taxi drivers will take advantage of these lax roles. but most people are afraid of uncertainty, especially since Africa is often seen by the outside world as “unsafe”.

Another argument that people propose in favour of Uber is that it is more affordable than taking a taxi. However, experiences may call this idea into question. If an individual lives in Kileleshwa, next to Valley-Arcade in Nairobi, it will cost about 1,250 Kenya Shilling, or $12.50 to travel to the Gigiri area. This is around 250 shilling (or $2.50) more expensive than travelling by taxi. Uber’s price is determined by distance, and therefore if an Uber car gets stuck in a traffic jam it cam become unprofitable for the driver; as a result, often the criver will opt to take the longer route. This will increase the cost to the rider. However, since the route is ultimately up to the driver, the price does fluctuate. Because Uber uses shilling per kilometer, it becomes hard for passengers to correctly analyze how much the ride should cost. Most passengers don’t have a clear idea how far away their destination is, or how long it will take.

Having this in mind, Taxi’s are a different story. Since Uber uses a phone app to decide the final price, it’s very hard for passenger to bargain over the cost. In the case of a taxi, everything is negotiable. When the passenger arrives at the destination he or she can usually negotiate the price of the ride. Thus the decision is in the hands of the passenger as well as the driver. It can result in a good bargain for the rider.

Convenience is another factor. Uber is very convenient within Nairobi, but it only operates in Nairobi proper. So if a passenger wants to travel to Naivasha (a city outside Nairobi city limits), it would be difficult with Uber. This said, a taxi driver can drive a passenger to areas outside Nairobi such as Naivasha and Kisumu without any issue.

In general, the decision that a client needs to make between Uber or traditional taxis depends on the situation. The two main factors to consider are distance and how familiar you are with Nairobi. If you just want to travel within Nairobi and you are not familiar with any taxi driver, Uber is safer. But if you have lived in Nairobi for some time and are acquainted with a few taxi drivers, then taxis are the better choice. And, if you want to travel outside Nairobi, taxi are the only viable option.

Is Nairobi ready for the Uber movement? Most definitely! But does it mark the end of the taxi business? In my opinion, absolutely not. What do you think Nairobians?