Mwangi Mubea, a spokesman for United Kenya Taxi Organization (UKTO), a lobbying group for taxi drivers, denied allegations that taxis drivers perpetrated these attacks.
“We cannot attack drivers who are employed just like us. In fact they worked with us before going to Uber. We have no problem with them,” Mubea said after an UKTO meeting. “Our only issue is the strategy used by their management to attract customers, which is driving us out of business.”
Under that strategy, Uber is registered as a technology company and therefore isn’t subject to government regulations, including taxation, that are demanded of a public-service provider in Kenya. The company does not pay the monthly fee required of taxi drivers. This business model, Quartz reports, contributes to Uber’s ability to provide a much cheaper service than local taxis.
Ashford Mwangi, another UKTO spokesman, said at a press conference those who want to become Uber drivers face other restrictions.
“First they demand the car to be almost new, making it hard for anyone who bought there taxi in 2009 to join them because we all cannot afford new cars,” he said.
UKTO wants President Uhuru Kenyatta to ban Uber, saying its members will otherwise paralyze Mombasa by blocking roads with their cars. Uber, the group said, “threatened the livelihood of 15,000 of” its members. It’s unclear if the ultimatum will have traction.
“We are in a liberalized environment and those who offer competitive services must be protected,” James Macharia, the minister of transport and infrastructure, said in a statement. “Uber operators and their clients will be protected.”
But Mwangi, the UKTO spokesman, points out that his group’s fight isn’t against ride-sharing companies, in general, but the way Uber operates in Kenya. Other ride-hailing apps that predate Uber have peacefully coexisted with taxis, he said.
“We have the likes of Maramoja and Easy Taxi apps working well within the industry simply because they involved stakeholders to determine rates,” he said. “So far, we have never had any issues with those apps for the two years they have been operational in Nairobi.”
Allenberg, the Uber spokeswoman, told Nairobi’s Business Daily the company has been “engaging with taxi associations since last year to find a way that we can partner with them.
“We are happy that many taxi drivers are already using our technology to boost their incomes and we would welcome more who wish to join their colleagues,” she said.
Besides Mombasa, Uber also expanded last week to Abuja, the Nigerian capital. The company says it plans to use Nigeria and Kenya as “hubs of expansion,” to eventually launch the app in Ghana, Uganda, and Tanzania. The service is now available in 400 cities globally, and Uber faces protests from taxi drivers worldwide.
South African Uber drivers are entangled in tensions similar to those in Kenya. Reports of threats and intimidation pushed the app to provide security for South African drivers. Earlier this year, taxi drivers in several French cities refused to drive, slowing traffic “to a crawl.”