Why Taxi Apps are the Next Big Thing in Nairobi’s Move Forward

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This year, the competition between app-based taxi services really started to intensify Africa. With the rapid growth of Uber, a company which was relatively unheard of twelve months ago, the commercial transport industry has undergone no less than a revolution.

 

Uber Taxi (Photo credit Alper Cugun)

Uber Taxi (Photo credit Alper Cugun)

 

It is now possible to step out of a taxi and almost instantly post a review, meaning that drivers now have a vested interest in keeping passengers happy. The majority of app based taxi services allow customers to monitor the progress of a taxi, as well as reference its driver by name.

The days when a taxi driver could delay in responding to a call, or refuse to take certain jobs at certain times of the day, are gone. Although it has faced some resistance, app-based taxi services really do ensure a safer commercial transport for Africa. Vince Matinde, a technology journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya, commented:

There are now three main taxi apps in Nairobi: UberX, EasyTaxi, and MaraMoja. One challenge that faces these apps is this cultural idea of ‘my taxi guy’. Everyone has names of taxi drivers on their phones and they might treasure the long time rapport. Aside from that, mobile payment might be a huge hindrance for services such as UberX and EasyTaxi. Relying on credit and debit cards might limit the uptake due to security issues. But, with the system in place, the services will eventually help consumers to get taxis without the need to haggle or being taken advantage of by crook drivers.

 

These matatus provide an extensive and cheap share taxi/ bus service all over Kenya. (Photo credit - Shankar S)

These matatus provide an extensive and cheap share taxi/ bus service all over Kenya. (Photo credit – Shankar S)

 

The Taxi Market in Nairobi

In order to understand how taxis function in Nairobi, it is first necessary to understand zoning requirements. As with most taxi-based models, the taxis here carry a standard flat fee. It costs 200 KES (2.33 USD) to start any journey. The difference is that, in Nairobi, there are fixed fees for travelling within and between zones.

This fixed fee remains the same no matter how many times the driver stops to refuel, how bad the traffic is, how many people are trying to hail the same taxi, or even if local authorities demand bribes for safe passage. For example, a 20 km  journey will always cost the same amount, no matter whether it takes twenty minutes or two hours to complete.

 

Paying For Taxis in Nairobi

The taxis in Nairobi are paid for with cash or via M-Pesa, which is a money transfer service similar to PayPal, but operated by Vodafone. This option benefits both customers and drivers alike, because it not only means that more people can afford to hail taxis, it also makes transaction quicker and easier.

However, for the industry to develop, the opportunity to pay via credit card needs to be introduced. Yet the issue of trust is a big one in Kenya, and credit card innovations have the potential to push out smaller companies and pave the way for larger, more established enterprises like Uber to dominate.

 

Bodaboda's are motorcycle taxis in East Africa. They got their name from the original bicycle taxis near the border of Kenya and Uganda. (Photo credit Erik (HASH) Hersman)

Bodaboda’s are motorcycle taxis in East Africa. They got their name from the original bicycle taxis near the border of Kenya and Uganda. (Photo credit Erik (HASH) Hersman)

 

Some Taxi Apps to Look Out For When in Nairobi

EasyTaxi – This Brazil-based company was founded by an entrepreneur after he became frustrated at trying to hail a safe taxi in Rio. It was recently launched in Nigeria, and a CEO has now been appointed to oversee expansion in Nairobi. If there are any app-based taxi services with the capital to take on Uber, EasyTaxi is one of them.

With a good international reputation and lots of market experience, it should come as no surprise to find that EasyTaxi receives consistently good reviews. According to users in Nairobi, the app is easy to navigate, drivers can be trusted to arrive quickly, and the company makes an effort to call registered customers and ask them for feedback.

 

Uber / UberX – The big daddy of the app-based taxi service world, this giant of a company has gone from an unknown entity to a household brand within a year. It is definitely a tough one to compete against.

But while Uber is well respected by the international community, it has run into problems when trying to expand within developing nations. Even if you have the capital, it does not mean that you will always be able to secure the right resources like manpower etc. On top of that, there is a trust issue with Uber, because it requires passengers to input all of their credit card data. There is no cash option, so customers have to trust Uber when it promises that its payment systems are 100% secure. For Kenya, at least at the moment, there is no option to pay with mobile money either, making a leap of faith the only choice.

 

MaraMoja – This app-based taxi service is different from the rest, because it is managed by a team of local businessmen. It offers passengers a novel way to ensure that they always get picked up: The application gives registered users the chance to highlight favourite (or trusted) drivers, and to link up with the favourite drivers of social media contacts if their preferred operator is unavailable. This is a nifty feature, although some say they hold privacy concerns when allowing taxi apps to access their social media accounts.

 

Penwin Cabs – This taxi service is still in its infancy, and reviews are inconsistent at the moment. According to users, fares can be extremely high – in some cases almost double the rate charged by local firms. As yet, it only has a small fleet of cars, and a lot of customers in Nairobi are still unfamiliar with it. However, just having a working app in Nairobi is a big step, and the company could progress rapidly in the future.

 

SasaCab – This app is still in development, so it cannot yet compete with larger or smaller companies as an app-based service. It takes phone bookings and offers a pretty secure payment platform. The company charges a commission for every successful journey, which is delivered to them by drivers, via M-Pesa.

Out of the five app-based taxi services outlined, EasyTaxi is most likely the best in terms of customer satisfaction. While it might not yet have the international standing enjoyed by Uber, it is highly regarded in Nairobi, and can be trusted to treat passengers well. If you are still a little wary about Uber, opt for a ride with EasyTaxi. This taxi company genuinely cares about the experiences of its customers.

 

The Future of Taxis In Nairobi

At present, the app-based taxi industry is dominated by Uber. This transport giant has the capital to expand and innovate on an international scale. While there has been some safety concerns regarding Uber, particularly in countries like India, the company is making progress reassure customers that its taxis and drivers are safe.

That is not to say this will not change any time soon. As more people realize the benefit of app-based taxi services, so too will market competition intensify.

Nairobi is a rapidly developing nation, and for the mobile, young population of the country, app-based taxi services are the future. In the end, it is hoped that a healthy competition among these app-based taxi services will generate a safer and more robust commercial transport infrastructure, which is one of the things Nairobi needs to keep moving forward.