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Safaricom banks on SMS to beat Uber taxi app

SCI & TECH
By Lee Mwiti | July 6th 2016

Kenyans can book a taxi using a short message starting next month.

This will be made possible by an app developed by Safaricom in a bold move to take on Uber, which is currently Internet-based.

Mobile operator Safaricom, in a deal with tech firm Craft Silicon, unveiled the hail-a-taxi app known as Little Cab, in a market currently under the iron-grip of American company Uber.

Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore said the firms are working on USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) codes so that they do not lock out people without smartphones. The codes will allow users to text rather than having to download the app. Also, to attract women to the service, Little Cab has introduced a lady-friendly category, Lady Bug, with professional lady drivers to ensure women’s safety on the road, which so far has 40 drivers.

Lady Bug service will be open for requests to customers from 6:00 am until 6:00pm, after which only ladies will be allowed to make a request.

Collymore said about 2,000 people have already downloaded the app. One can pay using M-Pesa, cash and smart cards.  “We want to localise the product. Ours is local. Around 2,000 people have downloaded the app,” Collymore said. “We believe Little Cab will provide better passenger experiences by connecting them with more reliable, cost-effective options.”

On his part, Craft Silicon CEO Kamal Budhabhatti said customers will get free wifi in the cab and will choose the radio station they want to listen to. “Little Cab aims to achieve one million rides in the next six months by entrenching and differentiating ourselves as a homegrown taxi app. We are confident that we will deliver distinctive experiences for our customers,” said Budhabhatti.

“Little Cab will take no more than 15 per cent off driver’s earnings, compared to other players in the market; Uber’s 25 per cent, Mdundo’s 22 per cent, and Dandia’s 18 per cent.” Uber, which was introduced in Nairobi in 2015, has already weathered a number of storms including violent opposition from traditional taxi operators. Despite the opposition, the firm has been able to enter new markets such as Mombasa, Kampala (Uganda) and Dares Salaam (Tanzania). Local taxi operators have in the past launched attacks against Uber, which offered lower service costs than local taxis and gathered a large clientele soon after the launch.

Taxify

Initially, Little Cab would be available on Android and Windows phones and would be made available on iOS platforms soon, the company officials said. Already, the new Safaricom-backed service has started a price war eager to curtail Uber’s dominance in the market.

Whereas Uber asks for Sh100 as base fare, and charges Sh60 per kilometre and Sh4 per minute with a minimum fare of Sh300, Little Cab is charging Sh55 per kilometre and has a minimum fare of Sh270. The new operator is also asking for a 15 per cent share of the revenue from its partners while Uber asks for 25 per cent. The Kenyan taxi market, which is becoming increasingly crowded by technology-driven cab-hailing companies, has also welcomed the Estonian online taxi-hailing app Taxify.

Taxify has teamed up with local traditional cabs, which have previously been opposed to Uber’s entry into Kenya. Taxify has confirmed it has already signed up 400 drivers belonging to the Kenya Taxi Cab Association to the platform, making Nairobi its third destination on the continent after Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa.

Another hail-a taxi cab, Romanian-based Mondo Ride, offers customers the option of using both regular taxicabs and boda-boda what is seen as smart ways of winning customers.

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