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Taxi drivers protest exploitation by hailing firms

A taxi along Kenyatta Avenue in Nakuru that operates on one of the many online taxi hailing firms currently in the town. Photo by KNA.

Over  500 digital taxi drivers in Nakuru are demanding that online taxi hailing firms raise the prices of rides and reduce the percentage of commissions they charge to protect their livelihoods.

The  Kenya Digital Taxi Forum (KDTAF) said prices were so low that they could neither maintain their cars nor earn salaries from them, adding that 15 to 20 percent user rate commission charged by the hailing firms were too high.

“We are not against discounts offered by the companies to stay competitive, but we want to be consulted. Low prices and high commissions are adversely affecting our earnings,” they said.

“These taxi hailing firms should take into account that our working environment is very dangerous due to the ease of signing up by clients without the need of any background checks. We ferry all kinds of dangerous persons,” observed KDTAF Secretary General, Wycliffe  Walutala.

Wasili Cabs was the pioneer digital firm to venture into Nakuru, followed by Safiri and Bolt Cabs. As the three gained popularity, they opened doors for more online cabs that have crowded the agricultural town.

Walutala said due to low fares, the drivers were forced to spend at least 20 hours behind the wheel to make anything meaningful, a situation he said not only endangers the drivers and the riders but also other road users.

The Secretary General noted that hailing firms’ management did not consult the KDTAF whenever they revised commissions upwards or lowered fares to remain competitive.

The operators were aggrieved that the dominant companies have been engaging in price wars, much to the detriment of the drivers and third party vehicle owners who were never consulted whenever the changes were made. The drivers say this has led to all-time low fares that have reduced their earnings to unsustainable levels.

“The financiers — car dealers — do not care that fares have come down, meaning that cab operators are unable to make payments as planned. Many cars have been repossessed and investments lost,” he said.

“Digital taxi business is now characterized by high commissions paid by cab drivers and owners and unfair pricing as a result of constant price wars between the firms as they competed for a larger market share,” noted Walutala.

Two years ago at the Ministry of Transport, the Digital Taxi App companies (Uber, Bolt formerly Taxify, Little Cab) and the Digital Taxi Forum, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to create and establish a workable solution to end the conflict between the parties.

Unfortunately, noted Walutala, nothing substantial has come out of the MOU because the digital taxi app companies never honoured it, citing several excuses.

“Our members feel short-changed. They have been patient enough awaiting implementation of the MOU to no avail,” Walutala lamented.

The Ministry of Transport had in July, 2018 agreed to sign the MOU with digital taxi drivers after a lengthy meeting to iron out grievances that had also seen them down their tools.

A cab driver Daniel Adoli said at least 80 per cent of people getting into the online taxi business are either taking loans from banks or acquiring cars through hire purchase.

“Hire purchase is a loan in itself and most people are finding it impossible to break even once they get into the business. Most have their vehicles repossessed over unmet targets,” he said.

Lower fare offers by the firms have left a lot of drivers devastated, as they end up having to either sell their debt to willing buyers or ultimately lose their cars to auctioneers.

Some of the digital taxi-hailing firms are registered in foreign countries, with their local subsidiaries only dealing with marketing aspects of the business making it difficult for drivers to enter into a binding agreement for better terms with the companies

The local subsidiary of Amsterdam-incorporated Uber B.V, for example, only handles marketing and support services to partner drivers, while Bolt Kenya (formerly Taxify) is registered in Estonia.

Another driver, Kennedy Thairu indicated that they used a lot of fuel to get to their clients only for the rides to earn them very little.

“At times we wish we knew the cost of the journey in order to have the option of cancelling it but we do not. We spend up to Sh.200 on fuel for a ride that costs Sh.250. Foreign dominant app companies should reduce the percentage of their commissions,” he said.

By  Anne Mwale/Dennis Rasto

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