In June 2016, Uber launched in Uganda with a bang. It kickstarted its operations in the country with free rides that were given to an already excited citizenry. Car owners in Uganda saw it as another way to make some side cash by signing up as Uber Drivers. But this was just the beginning.
Soon afterwards, another ride-sharing app launched in Uganda. It was none other than Taxify, an Estonian based start-up. Taxify rode on one model; “treat the drivers better.” It was a model premised from the fact that Uber’s disruptive models had caused disgruntlement among cab drivers in Africa especially in countries like South Africa and Kenya.
Afro a Nigerian-based ride sharing App has hinted on launching in Kenya and Uganda this year. Unlike other ride-sharing apps, Afro allows customers to haggle, something that is very fit for the African context. The haggling all occurs online as the driver and user keep raising and lowering prices until an agreement is reached by either party confirming a final price.
Then we have the mighty Friendship Taxi that charges by a mile, possibly beating Uber’s ever changing prices. Friendship Taxi has former Kampala Mayor, Nasser Ntege Ssebagala as a major partner. “I basically wanted to build a platform that was a win-win for both sides. What makes Friendship Taxi special is that even those without jobs can come for one of our cabs either as employees or hire them.”
Even before that steam settles, Safaricom in partnership with MTN Uganda will be launching its own ride-hailing service in Uganda. Whereas in Kenya it offers an M-Pesa payment option, in Uganda it will be a MTN Mobile Money. On top of this will be free wifi in the cabs. Internet is one of the things that appeals to the average millennial in the country.
Uganda is also already muzzling out with Fone Taxi, another ride-hailing platform. What makes their model different is the fact that they are offering a variety of cabs to choose from and this also determines the price. One can choose to travel in a Mercedes Benz or even in a Vitz, the prices differ. In addition, they have boda-bodas aka motorbikes for their Ugandan market. What makes Fone Taxi special, they write; “other apps look at the condition of the car, we place emphasis on the condition of the driver.” Whatever that means, only user experience can clarify.
As soon as we ushered in the New Year, another mobile app named “Quick Taxi” announced its presence in the country. Among other things has been its promise to drivers of an ability to make up to Shs. 600,000 per week. Pretty outrageous but a great bait.
This then begs the question; “Who will win the Ride-Hailing platform war in Uganda?” Global Internet Start-ups have expanded to Africa based on the premise that there is an already established middle class that is expanding by the day. However, many soon awaken to the realities that this is always a fallacy. Jumia is one of those platforms that can lay testimony.
None of the ride-hailing apps in Africa is yet to record profit let alone break even. Customer Retention has also proven difficult for these platforms as most users consider it a one-off affair. You can’t be certain when next someone will order for a cab. Many have tried it once and never returned, some found it too expensive. In Uganda, it has been difficult to break out Bodabodas and their awesome user experience. Such challenges have seen Uber diversify and start thinking of business partnerships, these include food deliveries. In the Festive season, they were to partner with Uganda Breweries to roll out a responsible drinking campaign code named “You Drink We Drive.”
Safety has been an issue for both parties. Uber drivers have expressed concerns, with some having cars stolen from them. Another story made news of a Uber driver who almost hacked a Ugandan user to death. She was lucky to live to tell her story.
These apps will also have to accept that Internet penetration is still a challenge. In Uganda, outside Kampala, few Ugandans are aware of these apps and it is rare for someone to use them outside the central business district. Even in Kampala, the internet charges remain high making it impossible for one to keep up with such platforms. It could take over 5 years or more before ride-hailing becomes mainstream in Uganda. And ride-hailing apps will soon form marriages to work around these Ugandan context challenges together or they stand to lose the war together.
The road infrastructure has also proven to be a disaster, time and again, the GPSs have failed to correctly locate customers while some roads also become cumbersome on given days. Uber has had to create its own maps for many areas, some with fault. But is this mapping sustainable? Online payments are also still novel to many Ugandans and Uber is working around having mobile money additions to their services to transcend the challenges that arise from cash-systems.
It is clear that whereas the future promises much, it will be a big hurdle for these ride-sharing apps to climb to the top of the mountain. It is going to take more than just advertisement, it will take collaborations among platforms, partnerships with various players and huge capital investments in building some things like infrastructure from scratch. May the best App win.