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Taxi Wars

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The investors in Kenyan Transport Industry will never allow sanity
There is a business war between traditional taxi drivers in Kenya and Uber. Uber which is a new entrant into the Kenyan market uses a mobile app which allows consumers with smart phones to submit trip request which is then routed to uber drivers who use their own cars. The model makes it possible for people to simply tap their phones and have a cab at their location in the minimum possible time. Founded in 2009 in San Francisco, America, uber is now present in over 58 countries across the world. It has proven to be to be an on demand transportation service which has brought a revolution in taxi industry globally.

In other countries the legality of uber has been challenged by governments and taxi organisations which claim that its use of drivers who are not licensed taxicabs is unsafe and illegal. United Kenya Taxi Organisation through its spokesman Ashford Mwangi accuses uber of driving 15,000 traditional taxi drivers out of the business. They offer cheaper rates, are readily available and common among the youth.

Drivers who asked the government officials to negotiate with them over uber’s entry into the market threatened to hold a mass protest if their call is not heeded. They also threatened to come up with their own version of uber to connect drivers in the country. From where I sit their grievances are more or less baseless. Competition in business should be healthy; you only need to know your competition and their market position. This feud has been characterised by attacks on uber drivers, their vehicles vandalised and ultimatum on government to drive them out of the market. These calls are criminal.

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Interior Cabinet Secretary, Joseph Nkaiserry after meeting the drivers last Wednesday directed the ministry’s Principal Secretary, Karanja Kibicho to convene a meeting between the drivers and uber management before the stalemate escalates. He said the issues raised by the groups should be addressed and a lasting solution reached. The ministry had earlier vowed to insulate drivers threatened for embracing technology offered by uber.

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The government of the day boasts itself of being digital and responsive to technological innovations. On the same breadth one can only expect a swift application of the law to what only amounts to a criminal case. The long meetings and negations are delaying justice, someone has been attacked and his car has been vandalised, why do you still negotiate with that person. Competition is the nature of any business. Both traditional taxi drivers and uber drivers are legally approved to do the business. “The police have launched investigations into the cause of and nature of attacks and those behind the attacks will face full wrath of the law,” interior ministry’s spokesman Mwenda Njoka said in a statement.

The transport industry in Kenya has for a long time been characterized by lawlessness. It has a poor reputation but the players are not concerned because they are only focussed on profit maximization. Fares rise and fall depending on the time and weather of the day, dangerous driving which poses serious death traps is almost the norm. The matatu section is a sham; Sacco’s have failed a big deal. The industry is still under goons and organised gangs who control routes.

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This is due to poor enforcement of law. National Transport and Safety Authority for instance will not crack the whip on PSVs playing loud music; they have instead chosen to let the previous law allowing loud music and graffiti to stay. The famous Michuki laws are now things of the past. This industry will never change; politicians see it as one important voting bloc. Police are the most corrupt and senior policemen, politicians and civil servants are also investors in the industry. As the say goes, you can’t cut the hand that feeds you. These investors cannotq be expected to enforce loss that will drive of the business or deny them votes.


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