In cities like London, Paris and New York, Uber taxis are polemic because of the competition they present to established taxi firms. There has also been backlash here in South Africa from metered taxi drivers. There have been protests and also reports of Uber drivers being intimidated and harassed. However, from a customer point of view Uber has been a huge hit. Customers are generally thrilled because Uber fills a gaping need in South African society.
Johannesburg is a young and car centric city. It was founded in 1886, the same year that the first petrol/gasoline car was invented. It’s not a pedestrian or bicycle friendly city and to get from A to B is often a distance of many kilometres. Public transport options are limited. The primary public transport network consists of taxi-buses that are flagged down by the side of the road.
For safety reasons, expats are strongly advised not to use the taxi busses and South Africans who can afford not to, don’t either. The roadworthiness of some of the buses is questionable, the driving standards of some of the drivers even more so.
Inside the bus it’s cramped. It’s not unusual to see a minibus with crisscrossed packing tape rather than a rear windowpane. Hazard lights are used frequently and indiscriminately. Flashing hazards can mean: I am turning left OR I am turning right OR I am stopping to pick up passengers and will be blocking your junction OR I am about to reverse OR I want to pull in front of you OR I keep my hazard lights on at all time so that you are aware of me. You get the picture.
There are also regular taxi cars, but plenty of people choose not to use them. Reasons cited include safety (both personal safety and roadworthiness of the taxis), cleanliness of the vehicles and potentially being ripped off as some drivers will take the longest route.
So for many, the car is king. But there are times when nobody wants to be the designated driver and historically (I mean until Uber came along a few short months ago) plenty of people were ready to chance a car journey after a drink…or a few drinks. It’s not condonable, but it happens. Especially late at night, when a quick drink accidentally turns into a couple and there’s no other viable way to get home in a dark, dangerous city. Drink driving accidents have been a big problem in South Africa for a long time.
Uber is catching on like wild fire. A couple of taps on your smart phone and your chariot arrives. You get a picture of the driver and his (or her) name. You know the fare upfront, it tends to be cheaper than the traditional metered taxis and the transaction is cashless. You also rate your journey, so each driver quickly builds a positive (or not so positive) reputation assisting you in the future driver selection.
Uber have upped the ante over the last few weeks. Recently, there was there was a Maclaren 650S out on the mean streets of Jozi ready to pick up Uber customers. This Tuesday they are offering to help with our spring cleaning. If you have unwanted items to donate to a good cause, Uber will send a car to your home for free to collect and take away your unwanted items and will take them to a forgood depot for distribution.
It’s a revolutionary new business model, self regulating and seamlessly matching supply with demand. There are so many potential applications for this type of business. For example, I was reading an article the other day about a similar app being implemented in Dakar, Senegal. The sms service is helping locals have their pit latrines emptied for less (or sometimes even being paid a small sum), improving sanitation and quality of life. You can read more about the ‘turning poo into gold’ concept here.
Currently Uber operates in four South African cities: Johannesbug, Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban. They are now looking to roll out their Uber cool services to other parts of SA.
Do you use Uber in your home city? What do you think? Is it rocking the boat and destroying local businesses? Is it too unregulated? Or is it a genius solution suited to modern times?
You can sign up for Uber HERE.