Silicon Savannah can solve Nairobi’s taxi operations squabbles

Global crisis mapping platform Ushahidi was developed by Kenyans and aptly deployed during the 2007/8 post election violence. It turned out to resourceful in geographically mapping out hot spot, to alert security agents who would then act in time and also for general information to the public, at the location and further away.

Today, it is being used worldwide. It is best suited for crisis as its deployment has shown. From elections in various parts of the world to natural disasters in places like Haiti, it has been very instrumental to users. That birthed the growth of Kenyans tech space into a vibrant ecosystem it is today.

The so called silicon savannah, largely on Ngon’g road, has provided other solutions to various problems affecting Kenyans. None has yet to be as globally acclaimed as Ushahidi but there is something they each do to make our lives better. Think of ma3route which shows traffic areas in any part of the country and you will appreciate that there is so much good coming out of our young, tech savvy generation.

Taxi operators are at pains currently in Nairobi as their margins have been slipping away. Uber which launched in January 2015 has made a tangible mark in the city, its traction creating tension with traditional taxi operators. There have been unfortunate and backward incidences of violence meted against Uber drivers.

The situation was dire that these taxi operators resorted to download the application so that they use to corner the Uber drivers. When they come to pick them, they find it is a trap and get beaten.

What taxi operators are going through is what other industries have already felt before. When Mpesa was launched, banks were the last to embrace it. They lobbied the high and mighty to have it denied the license. Today, hardly any bank lacks an mpesa teller in their banking hall. This even birthed mobile banking, which banks rely on to reach areas where they lack good infrastructure.

The postal corporation also felt the wrath of sticking to old regime. Technology made it easier to send messages via email. Long distance public service vehicles also saw a revenue stream of transporting luggage while other courier companies joined the bandwagon. Today they dot the courier service to the chagrin of postal corporation which is forced to rethink its operational direction every now and then.

These taxi operators will soon realize that they are fighting a losing battle. Technology is here to stay and the sooner they seek ways of working with it, the better for them. Some of them will be arrested and charged in court for criminal acts. This will send a message to the rest and they will stop their rearward thinking.

Uber is not the angel. Certainly their prices are lower, something that has endeared to many who always look for opportunities to save in this tough economic times. On average, Uber charges sh60 per kilometer while the normal taxis charge sh90 per kilometer. The fact that you get exact location of where the taxi is, the phone details of the driver, you get an automatic receipt once you use it and you can rate the service are useful accountability instruments for Nairobians.

Unfortunately Uber is only able to give these discounts because of two main reasons. They do not pay taxes to the Kenya government because they don’t own the business themselves, only the technology. Secondly, multinational companies like Google and Amazon among others have pumped millions of dollars to them to keep them afloat.

While Uber has invited the taxi associations severally to seek ways of working together, their insistence on new cars in good condition is a turn off to many taxi operators. Their insistence on etiquette and good customer service is something not all can abide by.

Their liquidity being solid means they can afford to charge less and will continue to do so until they almost become monopolies. They can then increase charges now that they control the business.

This is why the tech space in Kenya can and should come in. There is no harm in providing an almost exact technology, which some modifications to the local taxi associations to enable them also benefit and fend for their families.

There is a crisis in the taxi industry in Nairobi. Kenyans tech space has proved before that they have the tech brains to solve crises. It is time to grab the borne, chew it like cud and birth a solution for us.

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