NAIROBI, Oct. 27 (Xinhua) –“I will not give up,” said Kenyan taxi driver Moses Karanja on Friday as he tried to wriggle through a heavy traffic along Uhuru Highway into city center, Nairobi.
“Business is not very good, but I will not join them just yet,” he added.
It is about four years since taxi-hailing apps that include Uber, Taxify and Little Cabs were introduced in Kenya, but Karanja and many other taxi drivers across the East African nation have resisted the apps, sticking to the old way of doing business.
Karanja normally parks his vehicle at a spot on Kimathi Street in Nairobi’s central business district, and atop the vehicle he puts a sign reading “taxi” in hunt for customers.
“I have been in this business for about 15 years, and I love it. On this spot I have parked my vehicle in search for customers for the last five years,” he said.
Initially, it would not take him an hour before he gets a customer but since the introduction of the hailing apps, Karanja has faced tough times.
He sometimes sits in the vehicle for up to three hours without getting calls to pick someone or a customer walking up to him. He blames it all on the taxi-hailing apps, which, however, he is not ready to join.
“Those apps have eaten into our business. Look at all these vehicles,” he said, pointing to several vehicles of his colleagues parked on the street. “Most of them have not had any business since morning and it is because of the apps,” he added.
So, why would Karanja and his colleagues cling on the traditional way of doing business when customers are shifting to the hailing apps?
“The charges fixed by operators of the hailing apps are so little,” he said. “For a 5 km journey, the app charges not more than 3 dollars even when there is traffic, which I believe is so little,” he added.
Karanja, for such a journey, charges between 8 dollars and 10 dollars. The low charges by the hailing apps have seen Kenyans, especially the younger ones, shift to them, denying drivers like Karanja business.
The veteran taxi driver says a majority of his customers are aged 40 and above. “I don’t remember the last time I ferried a young person in my car but I get calls from older clients to deliver items for them or pick them. They want to deal with people they know and trust,” he said.
Taxi-hailing apps charges are calculated on distance, time-spent on the job and there is a base rate per kilometer.
Several recent incidents reported to the police and on social media of unruliness and even crime for drivers under taxi-hailing apps have offered the traditional taxi drivers hope for renewed business.
The incidents involve the drivers demanding more cash claiming what was offered is little, drivers taking orders and switching off the apps making customers incur unnecessary charges and even attempted carjacking.
“Unlike those drivers under apps, for us, most of those who come for our services know us in person. So there is no way we can turn against them and we agree on cost before we start the journey,” said Fred Asiko, a taxi driver.
John Musomi is one of the drivers in Nairobi working under a taxi-hailing app and has been in the business for two years.
“I joined sometime in late 2016 after working as an independent driver for three years. For me, it was a great opportunity because business had gone down and I could no longer rely on loyal customers,” he said Friday.
Since joining the app, Musomi said business has improved but acknowledges that the charges are low.
“Customers pay a dollar base fare plus 0.40 dollars cost per kilometer, and 0.03 dollars cost per minute. It favours one in long distances, but for short distances, one earns little and it is the reason drivers have been agitating for higher rates. But I am in because every business has its rules,” he said.
Bernard Mwaso, a consultant with Edell IT Solutions in Nairobi, believes that the traditional taxi drivers are fighting a losing battle, and with time, they may be out of business.
“People want convenience, good service and best rates which taxi-hailing apps offer, unlike them. The drivers may survive now but technology may deny them business as more Kenyans turn to the apps, including the older generation,” he said.