I’ve been following the social media debate on Uber as people pontificate on the imminent death of the local taxi industry, others gleefully announcing that they’ve given their local cabbies the boot, with Uber expected to mop up all business. Clearly, they haven’t met my cabbie Kingori, the reason I have zero interest in getting the Uber app.
I had a long chat with him last week on a cab ride to Kilimani about how if at all Uber has affected his business. Based on that and my own experience, I can confidently say that Uber has a snowball’s chance in hell of putting Kingori out of work. Here’s why.
Supermarkets didn’t kill kiosks
Several years ago the big retail chains invaded residential areas in an aggressive everything-under-one-roof expansion strategy with similar predictions being floated that kiosks were doomed. The big five – Nakumatt, Uchumi, Tuskys, Naivas and Chandarana may stock everything but there are two things they will never do as well as the local shopkeeper.
They don’t offer credit. Most of us have experienced that moment. Guests are coming; there’s no food in the house na mwezi iko kona mbaya. Who comes to the rescue? Mama mboga and the local butcher who lets you have veggies and meat and you pay later. They go a step further and cut the meat, sukuma wiki and cabbage for you and even peel potatoes. Talk about convenience. Ask bachelors where they buy veggies. I bet it’s not Nakumatt, even if it’s walking distance to his house.
A research study done by Kenya Financial Sector Deepening (FSD) found that the biggest source of credit in Kenya is not banks or Saccos but shopkeepers (Google it). When my gas gets finished, I don’t have to panic if I don’t have ready cash on hand. Omondi delivers and I Mpesa later. Business is good which is why he has upgraded from a bicycle to a motorbike so now delivery is even faster.
Kingori offers credit. Uber doesn’t. For a freelancer like me who is constantly grappling with delayed payments from clients, he’s a godsend. I have clients with offices in places hard to access using public transport but I never have to worry about getting there. And his prices are fair too. He once took me from Langata to Muthaiga for Ksh1,000.
Kingori is reliable
Ever been in a taxi and the driver takes a call and lies about his location? Kingori doesn’t. And he’s never late. If he can’t take you somewhere, he gets you another cab and you pay his rate. If the trip was on credit he sorts out the other guy and waits for payment as agreed with you. I’m writing this post from a client’s office. Kingori was to bring me here but five minutes before the agreed time he called to say he was stuck in traffic, sent someone else to pick me up who arrived on time and I made my meeting with 30 minutes to spare.
Nairobi is notorious for traffic jams and many are the times parents are stuck in the office and yet they have to pick kids from school at a specific time. Or a pickup point after a school trip, friend’s house or cucu’s house. Who do you call when you need someone to pick and drop your kids somewhere without your presence? A random driver from Uber or the local cabbie you’ve known for years? I have friends living in the same estate who prefer to carpool, asking someone like Kingori to drop off their kids in their various schools in the morning and pick them up after school and drop them home. That way, no one gets inconvenienced if a parent has to work late and kids don’t suffer long trips on school buses which pick kids as early as 5am and drop them home after 7pm. Cab guys like Kingori help kids get enough sleep and get home at a decent hour with enough time to play and still do their homework.
Dating as a single woman in Nairobi can be treacherous. On a few occasions, the men I’ve dated have become randy after the rave, refused to drop me home and insisted we go to his place instead. Once in college, I made the mistake of dozing off after a night out and woke up in Buru Buru. It took the better part of two hours to convince my date that I wasn’t spending the night and he agreed to take me to Langata.
Usually when a guy became difficult I would threaten to take a taxi. But sometimes you’d find yourself in a place with no taxis nearby and we didn’t have cell phones in those days. Eventually I learned the trick to prevent any hanky panky at 3am. I made sure my date picked me from home and either my mum or a sibling answered the door. That way he was forced to come inside for a few minutes as I got ready. He would be shown a seat directly across from my dad who would say very little as mum prattled on, the perfect hostess, asking if he wanted something to eat or drink. Facing your father is an excellent strategy for keeping guys in line.
If he became funny in the wee hours, I gently reminded him that dad was waiting for me to get home. That sobered him up instantly and he drove me home with no further resistance. Sometimes I dropped a hint that dad was a physiotherapist and had a gun. He didn’t. But it had the desired effect. I could almost see his thoughts after making that statement. A doctor can kill me in a dozen different ways and make it look like an accident. Or shoot me and bury my body in Ngong Forest (which bordered our home).
Now that I no longer live with my parents, Kingori is my safety net. I rarely go out these days but when I do it’s comforting to know he’s on speed dial should I need rescuing. Plus I don’t have to give directions every time I need him to pick me from places I frequent. I just say pick me from mum’s or my sister Ronni’s or my friend Mwende’s and he knows exactly where to go which wouldn’t be the case if I called Uber. And once in the cab I can doze off knowing I’m in safe hands and wake up when we get home.
In addition to being reliable, Kingori really knows how to go the extra mile for his clients. Before Clean Shelf opened a supermarket across the road from my house, I did bulk shopping once a month at Tusky’s in T-Mall and would call Kingori to pick me up after I was done. He is a gentleman and helped me carry the heavy bags up two flights of stairs.
Whenever I got a craving for Kenchic chicken (I still can’t believe they’re no longer going to have fast food outlets although it’s probably good news for my waistline) I called him. He bought the food with his own money and I paid on delivery. If he wasn’t available, he sent another cabbie who never asked for cash upfront but got paid on delivery.
I asked him whether he would consider joining Uber. He said no. They require newer cars which would mean forking out Ksh1 million or more to acquire and they tie you down. “Once their drivers drop off a client, they have to stay in that location until they get another call. But I leave immediately and look for other jobs.” Once he had to drop Ronni who was heavily pregnant at her gynaecologist. She opted not to drive her car because finding parking in the CBD is a nightmare. She requested that he wait which can take several hours especially if the doctor gets an emergency delivery and has to go to hospital. Kingori is resourceful; he told her no problem, did a few other jobs in town and when she was ready, picked her up and brought her home. I know his business is doing great because he recently bought another vehicle which his cousin is operating.
He did mention however that cab companies with fleets of vehicles (their own or leased), would be hit hard by Uber because price is such a huge factor for corporates, their main clientelle. He added that cabs based at hotels, airports and areas like Ngong Road, Westlands and Village Market where there is high volume of expatriates, UN staff and wealthy Nigerians would also suffer because they are used to charging exorbitant rates such as Ksh3,000 from Ngong Road to Westlands. “They are also choosy about clients and refuse to go to some areas like Jogoo Road and Industrial Area because they don’t want to spend too much time in traffic.”
He shook his head in disbelief when I told him about taxi drivers smashing the windshield of an Uber vehicle in protest about losing business to the global brand. “How will destroying someone else’s property solve the problem? Will it help you get customers?”
His parting shot? Uber wants to come play on his turf? Bring. It. On.
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