When I read that Safaricom in a Joint Venture with Craft Silicon were launching Little Cab– a taxi hailing app to rival Uber which has become quite popular with Nairobians, I was quite skeptical.
The two entities have telecommunications and financial software innovations as their core business. Many like me expressed their doubts on the ability by the two to take on Uber whose core business is the very disruptive technology that it started- heralding the age of a shared economy.
Indeed the Uber business model has been so disruptive that its launch in most countries so far has been marked by demonstrations and bitter wars between its operators and traditional taxi business operators.
Kenya has been no exception. Most Kenyans especially in the rural areas had no idea who or what Uber was till they were treated to images of vehicles on fire and ultimatums to the President to come to the help of taxi operators. Since then, popularity of the service only soared with many realizing just how affordable and convenient it is. This prompted Uber to launch in Mombasa and most recently in Thika town.
The launch of Little Cab by Safaricom last week can easily be viewed as an attempt by a Kenyan monopoly to flex its muscles in a market where its footprint is felt on every sector due to the integration of its M-Pesa service.
It is no secret that despite numerous calls by the Kenyan tech community to have the Mpesa API available for easy integration with locally developed apps, Safaricom has made it almost impossible to do so. That is why, despite Uber being in Kenya for close to 2 years now, one still cannot pay via Mpesa from within the app.
Lady Bug Service
As a consumer, the competition between Uber and Little Cab can only mean better options (pun intended). A case in point is the Lady Bug Service. This service will have professional lady drivers ferry women who prefer women drivers due to safety concerns. According to their press release, the service so far has 40 female drivers. Lady Bug service will be open for requests to all customers from 6:00 am until 6:00pm, after which only ladies will be allowed to make a request.
The Lady Bug service is a local adaptation of initiatives such as DriverHer, SafeHer, SheRides and Chariot for Women- global taxi services that address the safety and harassment of female passengers by regular cab drivers. Through this service, passengers will be charged Shs50 per kilometer and Shs4 per minute with no flat rate or price surges.
This comes at a time when numerous incidents have been reported on social media by various women who hailed Uber taxis only to find themselves dealing with rogue drivers. Despite requests by many Uber customers to the company to provide a local help line number or panic button within the app. A lot of these local customizations have gone un-answered prompting many to turn to social media to express their dissatisfaction and share horrible their experience.
Perhaps its no co-incidence that Uber just raised another round of funding to improve their operations, R&D and engineering across the world as reported by TechMoran who sees this as part of a strategy by Uber to put Safaricom in its place.
We are headed for interesting times ahead as the two behemoths fight it out to win the hearts of Nairobi’s middle class.
Have you tried out the app or the Lady Bug service? I’d love to hear your experience.