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The Uber way

Read time 7min 00sec

"I will Uber there" is becoming a common phrase in South Africa, as it is around the world where Uber operates. Uber is the software company that has knocked the transport industry on its head, as it provides a safe, convenient and cashless method for anyone to have their own chauffeur at the touch of a button. It has also revolutionised the way drivers are able to maximise their earning potential by being exposed to thousands of potential Uber riders.

I had the opportunity to catch up with Alon Lits, Uber's GM for sub-Saharan Africa, to hear about how the company has done in SA and what the future plans are.

Small to 300 cities

When Uber started in San Francisco, the founders were ecstatic when they saw there were a handful of Uber trips happening around the city. Little did they know that within a couple of years, Uber would be available in over 300 cities around the world! In New York, there are so many Uber drivers that you are never more than a couple of minutes away from a ride.

One would think this would mean more competition and less rides; however, the opposite is true. As people realise an Uber is around every corner, they are using the service more. On-demand transport within an app!

Uber scale for Uber jobs

Uber has created over 2 000 jobs in SA between 2014 and 2015, and is on a path to create 15 000 jobs by 2017. These are real numbers and real incomes, showing how Uber is delivering on what others (*cough government*) are just talking about. In fact, one of the factors holding Uber back from being able to create more jobs is the fact that South African transport laws are interpreted differently in each province.

In the Cape, there was/is a hold on issuing a specific licence, which was due to be removed in October, but it is still in place. In Durban, there is a limit on the number of licences issued. These regulations are hampering the growth potential of Uber and its driver partners, and Uber is working closely with the powers-that-be to assist and work within the regulations.

Uber drivers are not only empowered to work when they choose to work, but are able to create opportunities for others. I heard from Kevin Dube, who used to be employed as a taxi driver, but once he tried Uber, he was hooked, and quit his job to become an Uber driver fulltime in 2014. Since then, he has bought three more vehicles and now employs three other drivers. Dube says he loves the fact that Uber takes care of all the technology, allowing him and his drivers to focus on customer service.

How are South Africans using Uber?

While SA does have a public transport system (buses, trains, taxis), South Africans prefer to use their own vehicles. The Uber effect has begun to transform people's perceptions, as more South Africans are starting to use Uber on a regular basis instead of just on the odd Saturday evening after a night out on the town.

In fact, according to Uber's calculations, if you travel 15km per day, it would cost R4 500 if you used Uber daily. With this number in mind, it would be cheaper to use Uber versus owning a car, when you take into account car repayments, insurance, petrol, parking, not to mention the frustration of being unproductive in traffic.

South African stats say there are 3.7 million cars in Johannesburg and 76% of these drivers are stuck in approximately one hour of traffic on a daily basis. This number is compounded if load shedding hits or if drivers work in one of the major hotspots, where rush-hour happens basically every hour.

Using the 20% off rides in the month of June, I have been travelling with Uber over the past couple of days. While being driven, I was able to use my laptop and use that time as productive time, without worrying about the road, the taxis overtaking in the emergency lane, or the truck doing an illegal U-turn.

It looks like I am not the only one, as in 2014 South Africans enjoyed one million Uber trips, whereas in only six months of 2015, South Africans have already taken two million trips. What is also evident is that Uber is being used as a link with other transport options, such as the Gautrain, in order to complete the journey. There is also evidence showing Uber rides starting and ending in Soweto, as more people have access to tech, data and the reliability of a safe ride.

The Uber future

I get to travel for TheTechieGuy work, which involves catching a cab from the airport to the hotel. I often look out the window and see other people travelling to/from the same airport to the same area of town. We are both paying the full rate of the taxi and going to similar locations. Imagine if I could summon an Uber and I was offered to have my fare split with other people who were going to the same location?

This is what UberPool is about, and it is coming to SA once some "experiments" are concluded to prove and test its viability. With UberPool, if there are multiple requests from the same area with similar destinations, users can pool those into one Uber car and share the fare between the passengers. Common places such as airports, convention centres and hotels would make ideal pool-commutes, and users can meet interesting people along the way.

UberEats is another possible service that Uber will bring to SA, where users will be able to have food delivered to them by an Uber driver within five minutes of ordering.

Safety first

Uber is clearly not resting on its achievements and is constantly improving its core service, its driver relationship and its customer service. These are the keys to the success of the system, along with safety.

This is why customers can rate their drivers after each trip and drivers can rate their customers too. This allows Uber to protect both customers and drivers and keep the system as safe as possible from unworthy drivers and belligerent customers who mistreat their drivers. The ability to send a friend your estimated time of arrival is built into the app too, in case you travel alone and want someone to know where you are. Being a cashless system means drivers don't have to worry about being robbed at the end of the night. It also means customers don't have to have the awkward price-negotiation chat when entering the vehicle, and as the routes are monitored and sent as part of the receipt, customers can query the route with Uber if they feel they were taken on a longer route than necessary.

There is the discussion about how Uber logs and monitors all the data of the trips, and some say it's an invasion of privacy. I know that if my child was using a transport system to get home, I would much rather use a monitored service like Uber, where I can watch the car drive her home verses her getting into a random car that happens to have a "taxi" sticker on the door.

I look forward to following the Uber journey and its experiments to see new services brought to SA as they prove successful around the world.

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