Harnessing the power of technology

Uber Country boss Brian Njao.
Taxi-hailing app Uber is planning a safety summit in Nairobi, which is meant to showcase how technology can lead to digitally sustainable solutions and help keep communities safer. The event will address the safety challenges experienced by riders. Uber Kenya country manager spoke to Financial Standard about the event.

What role does technology play in the safety of individuals, communities and businesses?

Technology enhances our efforts to create a safer service for our riders and drivers, and the global community. Uber is committed to innovating and raising the bar on safety to provide better experience for riders, drivers and the community.

For example, by harnessing the power of Global Positioning System (GPS), along with other sensors in the driver and rider’s smartphones, we believe we can make travel safer.

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How can tech public-private partnerships (PPP) enhance safety?                       

PPPs are key to building sustainable and safer cities. We need collaboration to create smarter, safer and efficient ways of getting people from point A to B by use of technology.  Uber is facilitating more than 15 million trips per day globally.

We have the opportunity to make the wealth of data we collect available for use by the cities we operate in. We have partnered with public-private firms such as SharedStreets to build standards for how private players can share road speed data.   

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This is something cities have been asking us for. In Kenya, we have partnered with UAP Old Mutual to provide insurance to drivers, riders and courier-partners.

How is Uber addressing riders’ safety in Kenya and East Africa? 

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Safety is a top priority. Driver and vehicle information, instant feedback and traceable trips are features that did not exist until Uber launched in Kenya.  We remain committed to the safety of both riders and driver-partners. We and have several safety features available to those who use the Uber app.

It allows users to see the drivers’ profile, vehicle colour and model, and location. The driving hour limits feature prevents drowsy driving. Riders and drivers are covered in case of the accidents or crime-related incident during Uber trip.

This year, a strike by digital taxi operators (including Uber) dominated the headlines. What pacts did Uber make with its drivers? 

Drivers are at the heart of the Uber experience. The vast majority of Kenyans who have chosen to drive with the Uber app have done so to be their bosses and choose the number of hours they wish to drive on any given day.

Over the past four years, we have made changes to offer a better experience with more support and protection, including safety features and access to business rewards that help drivers reduce costs and keep more earnings.

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Uber for Business is a fast-growing part of the firm’s business. How are the figures looking?

In Q3 2019, we saw strong traction in the overall business-to-business segment with Sh400 billion ($4 billion) in annualised gross bookings and 65 per cent year-over-year growth.

Today, more than 65,000 organisations rely on Uber for Business to help move their employees and customers. Uber Health serves the Sh1.5 trillion ($15 billion) US non-emergency medical transportation market that grew by 400 per cent year-over-year.

How is Uber maintaining its innovative pitch?

We have launched various products in East Africa in the last year such as uberChapChap in Nairobi, uberPoa (tuk-tuks) in Dar es Salaam and Mombasa and uberBoda in Kampala and Nairobi.

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Earlier this year, we launched UberLite that works even in low connectivity areas. It also allows riders to order uberChapChap and uberX in Nairobi by calling the toll free number. 

Why is Uber yet to expand into more Kenyan towns?

Our ambition is to be everywhere. We are part of a broader mobility movement, establishing smart cities of the future.  We are working to grow our business in Mombasa and Nairobi.

Is the number of Kenyan drivers taking up Uber growing?

In September 2018, Uber celebrated five years in Africa and with over 1.3 million active monthly riders and 36,000 drivers across Sub-Saharan Africa. With more than 216,000 active riders and over 6,000 active drivers in Kenya, Uber has managed to draw talented individuals together. 

Any future business plans for the Kenyan market?

We will continue to invest in driver-partners to offer our riders a service that suits their lifestyle. We’re confident Uber will continue to grow and look forward to expanding our business.

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UberUber country boss Brian NjaoTaxi-hailing app