Why it is Hard Getting an Uber in Nairobi Central Business District


Ever tried hailing an Uber ride in Nairobi CBD? Yes? Well, me too. Did you actually get a ride immediately? No? Well, me too. While still at it, did an Uber driver/partner initially accept the ride, then quickly cancel it? Yes? Well, me too.

Uber launched in Nairobi in January 2015, and the service became a hit among the expatriate community and Nairobi’s tech savvy users. At the time of launch, many questions lingered as to how Uber planned to scale up in Kenya since there’s little adoption and use of credit card services (they are currently at 10%). All around the world, Uber has been synonymous with cashless payments only piloting cash payments in Hyderabad, India. Nairobi is the second city in the world where Uber is piloting cash payments besides accepting payments made through mobile money services.

There are a huge number of Uber cabs in Westlands and Lenana Road
There are a huge number of Uber cabs in Westlands and Lenana Road

The company has also been working towards lowering the time it takes for a driver to arrive after hailing. It currently takes the driver 4 minutes to arrive from 11 minutes when Uber first launched. This of course is as a result of an increase in the number of Uber cabs. Still, it is difficult to hail an Uber from the CBD. In fact we actually tried hailing an Uber from three different locations within the CBD (the University Of Nairobi, Nation Centre and Technical University) but there was none around. On the other hand, hailing one from our offices on Lenana Road was a breeze as there were 5 rides available.

So why is it difficult to hail one from CBD?

There were virtually no Uber rides in CBD from three different locations
There were virtually no Uber rides in CBD from three different locations

Uber has an internal system that offers a bonus to its Uber drivers/Uber partners for a given number of trips. So the drivers have thus identified the various areas in Nairobi where one is likely to make more rides based on the number of customers and concentrate their activities to these zones leaving out the CBD. This is likely the reason there are more cabs to hail within Kilimani, Hurlingam, Westlands, Gigiri and Lavington neighborhoods.  The other reason is, most users hailing cabs within these neighborhoods are looking for short trips or moving to other neighborhoods where the driver can quickly find another fare thus making more trips.

In Kenya, an Uber ride fare is calculated based on a base fare of Kshs. 100 that is added to Kshs. 4 per minute spent on the ride which is also added to Kshs. 60 Per kilometer of travel. The minimum fare cost is Kshs. 300 while it costs Kshs. 400 if you cancel. While this may be appealing to a driver especially in times of traffic, Uber gets a 30% commission while the driver keeps 70%. The CBD is prone to traffic hence reducing the chances of a driver making more trips. The other interesting reason given by an Uber driver is that most of the users hailing cabs from the CBD, usually have longer rides to destinations where the partner is unlikely to get a return passenger. So what do Uber drivers do while in the CBD? Among other things, they accept your ride and quickly cancel it or intentionally go offline by switching their internet connection off.

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Eric writes on business, govt policy and enterprise tech.