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Uber taxi burnt down, driver injured in war over business in Nairobi

By CYRUS OMBATI | February 22nd 2016

Nairobi, Kenya:  An Uber taxi was burnt down and the driver injured by suspected arsonists in an attack over businesses in Nairobi.

The driver of the Uber taxi was dropping off a passenger along Kirichwa Road on Sunday night when his car was blocked by another one.

He told police he saw four men alight from the other car while armed with a jerican of petrol, which they poured on his before setting it on fire.

Nairobi police boss Japheth Koome said the four men also beat up the Uber taxi driver after he had jumped out of the burning car for his dear life.

“These are criminals who belong to jail and I believe we will get them. That is not the way to settle their wars,” said Koome.

Other motorists who were using the road at that time watched from a distance as the car went up in flames. The attackers who seemed to have trailed the Nissan Wingroad to the scene jumped into their car and sped off.

Koome said the attack was the latest to be reported to them in a series over the fight over business in the taxi industry.

Most of the incidents reported are smashing of cars by unknown people especially in Kileleshwa area where the business is popular.

The incident comes weeks after the government formed a team to formulate laws that will govern online taxi operations.

A meeting called to discuss the entry of Uber online taxi platform in Kenya resolved to appoint the team to be led by Competition Authority boss Wangombe Kariuki to come up with laws.

The meeting was called following threats by traditional taxi operators to go on strike if Uber ones were not tamed.

During the meeting two weeks ago, it was resolved that all taxi operators must observe law and order at all times.

“Any person engaged in acts of lawlessness will be dealt with sternly in accordance with the law. We have an established mechanism of resolving disputes, and lawlessness is not one of them,” said interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho.

The row stems from claims that Uber is undercharging customers to run other taxis out of business.

An association of taxi operators has raised concerns over the entry of Uber taxi, which using a mobile app, are offering fares less than half the price charged by conventional taxis, a situation that has not settled in well with traditional taxi operators who will held a strategy meeting Wednesday.

Uber taxi app was launched in Nairobi in January 2015, with the US firm looking to leverage on the country’s 19 million mobile internet subscribers.

Uber users rely on a mobile application accessible on smart phones to organise taxi trips.

Clients submit requests and are in turn linked to taxi owners who have registered their vehicles on the network.

The attacks have added Nairobi to the list of over 300 cities where Uber has ‘disrupted’ the taxi business with fares as low as Sh90 a kilometre, almost less the price charged by ordinary taxis.

Traditional taxis operate from specific stations like in Nairobi’s Central Business District, which costs at least Sh6,000 per month in county government charges.

Uber taxi drivers, however, operate in hubs, where they get customers on call, sparing them parking space fees.

But the technology is facing problems in Nairobi because conventional taxi drivers say it has cut costs and is driving them out of business.

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