Uganda is the latest country to join Uber’s growing African network with the launch today of the ride-hailing technology in Kampala, a city where motorcycle taxis are considered the fastest — but not safest — way to get around.
Kampalans can get free Uber rides today through Sunday, June 5 via the Uber app to celebrate Uber’s launch, CNBCAfrica reported.
Uganda has one of the world’s youngest populations, with 700,000 new people entering the workforce each year, World Bank reports, BiztechAfrica.
Uber’s business model allows drivers to be self employed, to pursue entrepreneurial aspirations and this makes it appealing to governments where unemployment is an issue.
However the disruptive technology in the taxi industry means Uber sparks conflict almost everywhere it goes. In Kenya and South Africa, Uber drivers and passengers have been harassed, and worse. But the biggest threat to Uber’s bottom line may not be angry drivers for traditional taxi cab companies, but motorcycles, IBTimes reported.
East Africa has seen a boom in Uber-style apps for motorcycle taxis, known as boda bodas, which are much cheaper than Uber rides and more convenient in African capitals like Kampala, where never-ending traffic jams are a fact of life.
The main problem with boda bodas is safety. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest road fatality and motorcyclist death rate in the world, according to the World Health Organization. Boda-bodas are responsible for 75 percent of all trauma caused in road traffic collisions, a study showed at Mulago National Referral Hospital in Kampala, Uganda.
Moto-taxi apps hope to attract users by promising convenience without compromising safety, according to IBTimes. Uganda-based startup Safeboda trains its boda-boda drivers in safety and partners with the Red Cross to teach them first aid. The app acts like a phone book allowing users to hail a taxi on their smartphones but the company also provides drivers with protective gear like full-face helmets.
Safeboda’s fleet of 460 drivers says they’re selling 7,000 rides a day. Their branded orange helmets are becoming a common sight in Kampala streets.
Uber wants to be part of the solution to Kampala’s traffic congestion and safety issues, according to Alon Lits, general manager for Uber sub-Saharan Africa. “We are inspired by the city’s rapidly developing infrastructure and spirit of entrepreneurship and look forward to giving people in the city an affordable, easy and flexible choice to move around the city safely and reliably,” he said.
Uber aims to complement Kampala’s existing transport options, Lits added. “We can help improve urban mobility in Kampala. Ultimately, we hope to reduce the strain on the city’s roads.”
A seasoned Uber rider in Nairobi, Kenneth Njihia wrote in PCtechmag about his excitement at the Uber launch in Kampala.
“The bottom line is, you won’t have to bicker about the price beforehand,” Njihia said. “The app calculates how much you owe, you get a record of your trip in the app and you make the payment with cash or credit. In my use of the app I found that most times what I ended up paying was considerably cheaper than what a regular cab would have charged.”
But technology can only go so far in Kampala, where digital mapping is relatively limited, AfricaBusinessCentral reported.
Some roads in Kampala are known only by how many bumps they have, according to PCTech:
Cab drivers know some areas, major streets have names, and other roads are described by landmarks or number of bumps. But a lot of times you want to be picked up at home that’s off Lugogo bypass, go like you are driving to Kisassi, right after the Shell Gas station, then up the hill slightly, behind the blue building, you’ll see a shop, then there at the black gate with a sign, that’s where I am, on the third floor….waving.
Uber is now available in at least 12 African cities. In sub-Sahara, it operates in Nairobi, Mombasa, Lagos, Abuja and at least five cities in South Africa — Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth.
Uber will be operating in the capitals of Ghana and Tanzania within a month, Lits said a week ago, according to AfricaBusinessCentral.