By Felix Nkinke
“I cannot partner with any of these taxi companies using Apps. They are not offering a fair deal to drivers,” said David Mwangala.
He added bluntly, “I am better off working as a pirate taxi man than joining these operators.”
Mr Mwangala, 55, has been a pirate taxi driver for most of his adult life.
Born and raised in the sprawling township of Bauleni, east of Lusaka, the father of five has crisscrossed the streets of Lusaka picking, and dropping off clients every day.
“That has been my life. I have worked for different car owners, but this far the money I make is enough to support my family and send my children to school,” a smiling Mr Mwangala said.
He continued that though it has been challenging working under his terms on meeting the weekly cashing target, it is better than the incentives being offered by ride-hailing operators.
However, some taxi drivers have a different view regarding the ride-hailing business. While they agree that ride-hailing operators are offering drivers a raw deal, they note that the new taxi business is better.
Many taxi drivers have embraced the rapidly growing App taxi business that has arrived in the country through technological innovation.
“This business is not new in Zambia,” said Drivern Taxis executive director Joseph Chikota, who is seemingly the pioneer of the ride-hailing business in Zambia
Driven Taxis introduced its App on the Zambian taxi market in early 2010 but fizzled out less than two years in operation.
“We used to run our taxis called London Taxis. There was a prominent feature around hotels and the international airport,” disclosed Mr Chikota.
Now, that the ride-hailing business has grown some players have entered the market.
A couple of months ago, Yango Taxi rolled out its App joining local operator Ulendo which has been in operation for over five years now.
The growing number of Taxi App operators is a testament that Zambia has potential for the ride-hailing business.
“Yes, there is potential for ride-hailing in Zambia because it is a new industry in the transport sector. One that has brought a lot of benefits to passengers and drivers,” agrees Mr Chikota.
During the launch in Lusaka, General Manager for Yango in Africa Adeniyi Adebayo also acknowledged that Zambia’s ride-hailing industry is destined to rapidly grow.
“Zambia has a growing, actively developing economy and there is a high demand for a modern ride-hailing service. We are convinced that people in Zambia will appreciate the ride-hailing service,” Mr Adebayo said.
The new industry already boasts of players like local startup Ulendo, Kenyan taxi-hailing App Little Cab, Tukuya taxi, which launched a couple of months ago, and Taxmania Taxi, soon to launch an App.
Ride-hailing taxi is a new transport subsector in Zambia quickly catching the attention of taxi hire enthusiasts in most cities and rural areas across the country.
“I am impressed with the coming of these taxi App operators. They are doing a great service. One doesn’t need to walk a distance to hire a taxi. You just download the App and you are good to go,” said Racheal Chiyokuma, a Lusaka resident.
Indeed, ride-hailing has quickly become very popular in Zambia.
The service refers to an act when a customer orders a customised ride online usually using a smartphone application, in essence, it is similar to a taxi service.
The customer orders the ride from a ride-hailing platform, a third party that mediates the service between the driver and the passenger.
“The way this service works is simple,” explains Olson Hatembo a ride-hailing taxi driver with Yango.
Mr Hatembo also explained that the drivers, or partners as they are referred to by some App operators, are the main actors and should be the key beneficially.
“We are at the centre of the entire business process. Without us, the App operators wouldn’t make money,” he said.
He further explained that the drivers provide the cars used.
“All we do is to register with the App service provider and download the App onto the smartphone. Then we are good to go. The payment is charged automatically and the income is shared between the mediator and us the drivers.
“We get a commission based on the amount of money one has made,” he said.
While some drivers have welcomed the App system in terms of doing business others have cited unfair trade practices by App service providers, especially with commission rates and payouts.
All the drivers have one unified position concerning the rider-hailing business. What they are paid from the signed agreements with the App service providers is not enough.
Most agree that the drivers, who are the owners of the cars used for hire, get a small percentage of the income generated.
“There is a raw deal here. Despite us being the owners of the cars, service providers get something between 10 to 15 per cent. This is also beside us using our fuel,” said Fred Mwela, Taxi App driver.
These sentiments are shared by many ride-hailing taxi drivers in the country.
They argue that App service providers are riding on their backs while getting the lion’s share of the cash.
They further say drivers have to contend with car maintenance and fuel costs yet they get a share of the cake not proportional to their input.
Recently, a meeting of Ulendo drivers was convened in Lusaka to hear their concerns following mounting competitive pressure being exerted by the arrival of other players on the market.
Insiders disclosed that at that meeting, drivers sought deliberations on several burning issues to even the playing field.
Most drivers across all ride-hailing service operators speak one voice regarding certain issues seen to be fuelling the unfair pacts between operators and drivers.
“Drivern Taxis is now back in Zambia,” said Mr Chikota, adding “We have looked at what is happening in the industry. We believe that drivers deserve more and that is our main objective.”
He added that under Drivern Taxis, the commission is pegged at five per cent, unlike other players whose rate oscillates between 10 to 15 per cent.
“We have also formed a cooperative for our drivers. Those that join us have the option to also become a member of the cooperative which has so many benefits,” the Drivern Director said.
He added that the ride-hailing business will impact positively on the taxi transport subsector and hoped the government will hastily address the bottlenecks around its smooth operation.
Mr Chikota pointed out that a lot of jobs, especially among the youth, have been created and the business has brought new taxi customers that would otherwise have never considered taking a cab.
A couple of weeks ago, Transport Minster Frank Tayali assured taxi App operators that the government will soon provide legislation on how the new industry would operate so that it contributes positively to development.
Concerns are being expressed that the current laws, which do not encourage ride-hailing in Zambia, might cause uncertainties regarding the future of the promising industry.