Uber has been a point of contention for the past couple of weeks due to the ‘eruption’ of the growing anger of people in the taxi industry. This lead to them launching attacks on unsuspecting Uber drivers causing some considerable amount of damage. Furthermore, they said that they are planning to hold protests in 7 days (should be 2 or 3 now) if Uber fails to exit the Kenyan market. They are angry and I get that. They say Uber is taking over their industry. They feel like Uber came in and is taking away their customers, hence their livelihood.
They feel like the floor is being swept up right from under them. They are angry. They have the right to be. But the thing is, they aren’t the only ones who should be angry. Uber is not just here for them, Uber is here for all of us. We should all go to protest and show our anger, albeit not for the same reason.
Many companies and Startups have come in and showed us a new normal, a different way of viewing things often a way that is more efficient. Just like that we change our minds and jump on the band wagon, because we know that this is the future. However, as we change, there is collateral damage. Some people, things or industries have to suffer a blow. Its life. The more profound the change is, the more the collateral damage. The more the anger.
The taxi drivers I refer to in this article aren’t those working for taxi companies, rather independent taxis that are commonly found around the country.
Pay attention to the bigger picture. It’s not all about you!
“If we think that public transport is for those not able to buy cars, then low fare charges are not only insufficient for maintenance but also provide too little money for operator’s sustenance”
Like I stated earlier, Uber is not just here for the taxi industry, it’s here for all of us, and we fail to see this. Taxis account for only a small percentage of the world’s transport industry, therefore just looking at the effect it has on taxis is a huge mistake. What we should look at however is how Uber, and other similar sharing economy transport services are changing the whole system as a whole.
What comes to your mind when you hear the term public? In my mind I see something made for everyone, often times generic, lackluster, cheap and sadly, poor quality so that those who cannot afford ‘private’ to get a taste of it. This is our perception of public transport. That it is for those who cannot afford to own private cars and we pay dearly for that. Something Ben Thompson of Stratechery wrote on this that opened up my mind is to the danger of our perspective. If we think that public transport is for those not able to buy cars, then low fare charges are not only insufficient for maintenance but also provide too little money for operator’s sustenance. Let that sink in a little.
There is a reason why Uber is so appealing to us. It’s all about our transport system, which we have to admit, sucks big time. It does not spell safety, efficiency or well-thought out for that matter. There are no standards to adhere to, everything is mixed up and it looks like a mess literally! Could you imagine if it was planned out? If it was reliable, if it was predictable and acceptable? Then that would change everything. This is the answer to why Uber is so appealing. It screams efficiency and reliability. It conforms towards a certain standard that needs to be met by the driver and the passenger alike. Uber shows us that it you do not have to be uncomfortable and settle for less while using public transport.
This is the relationship we have had with taxis and matatus. This is why like the taxi operators, we (riders) should get angry. We have settled for less, we are suffering at the hands of a poor transport system that has forced us to conform and accept inefficiencies. We should be angry that we allow it to happen. Uber came and gave us something new. (Note: I’m not saying that Uber can replace taxis, let alone matatus, but it presents itself as a an accessible option, a third option) We should be angry that it took as so long to get here, we should be angry that they are trying to take it away from us.
Taxi and matatu operators do not earn that much. In fact they fight for every shilling that they can earn. Why spend precious hard earned cash fixing your car up or should I say afford a nicer attitude? Why follow rules and guidelines to allow fair distribution of riders and road usage when you can bully your way to a stage, force people in and drive around like a maniac in order to be fit in more trips in the day? With all this, they still can’t earn enough so they charge more to try and increase their margins. But then comes Uber with low fares and decorum. Why shouldn’t they feel angry? Don’t you think that they feel cheated and robbed of their ‘low income’ market base?
“..adding technology does not make Uber a taxi competitor, it makes Uber a taxi ‘obsoleter’..”
Taxis, don’t get mad. It’s not you, it’s me. You have been a worthy companion. You have been there when I had those heavy bags to carry and walking home was not an option. You were there those ungodly hours of the night when I needed to go home. I did not judge your old car, where the wipers barely worked and the windscreen looked forever fogged up so your trusted damp cloth was always nearby. I did not mind that I’d go praying that the door won’t open as I don’t think I banged it hard enough. I did not mind that sometimes you would speak so loud to me over the blaring music as you tried to make me understand why politics doesn’t work in this country. Or those moments you would reverse out of a road at 70 km/h. I held my breath and closed my eyes, I did not mind because you eventually got me home, no matter how much you charged after ‘hours’ of bargaining and me threatening to leave. But I’ve found a new companion.
I’m trying to bring out the importance of affordable and efficient transport system. This is what I think Uber is trying to provide. It cannot wrong the mistakes of our past. It cannot all over sudden make transport cheaper and accessible to all, both the rich and the poor. All it can do is provide an alternative. A sweet looking alternative. This isn’t only for the rider, but also for the driver. Especially for the driver. Remember I said that Uber isn’t just here for taxis. It’s here for the basic movement from point A to B. What makes it special is that it isn’t just about transporting people.
Delivery guys should get angry too.
According to Ben Thompson, the fact that Uber does more that transport people will have an adverse effect on same-day delivery. Let’s think about this, what is Uber really good at? One answer, finding people and moving them from one point to another. They learn and while on the ground their general purpose is to discover and use faster, better routes for getting their passenger to where they want to be. They figure out the way and build a network. On the other hand, what makes e commerce expensive both in terms of time and money? Delivery. These companies struggle to create a delivery network. It is costly and most times they just out source it, which can get expensive.
Uber owns no cars, Uber owns the network.
Now imagine that Uber does the delivery for you. It has the network and it has the drivers. Adding delivery to the services Uber offers increases the demand for drivers. I see a lot more people employed, both part time and full time. It actually increases driver utility. They do more than just sit and wait for customers while reading yesterday’s paper. More demand for drivers equals faster delivery. So who should stop delivery companies stomping the ground and joining the protest against Uber.
You see, the effect Uber has on the taxi industry is short sighted. Using Ben Thompson’s words, adding technology does not make Uber a taxi competitor, it makes Uber a taxi ‘obsoleter’. Just like the iPhone obsoleted Nokia to a calling app or Blackberry to a messaging and keyboard app, so does Uber do to taxi’s. There will no longer be the need for dedicated cars to transport a person from one place to another, it will just be one function of Uber, among many more things Uber can do.
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