One of the main attractions of Uber is its transparent method of fare calculation; it is based on a formula that is always shown to riders at the end of the trip. And in most cases, riders get a fare estimate before the trip, often the final cost.
But some drivers have found a way to get around this and charge higher fares. Sources close to the ridesharing app tell Uganda Business News that it has discontinued two drivers so far for using screenshots when charging riders. The drivers use screenshots of previous rides with higher charges when a trip costs less.
The practice extends beyond just the two dismissed individuals, drivers we have spoken to tell us. A cursory look on Uber’s Facebook page shows it is a common complaint from riders.
“I sent my niece yesterday on an errand from East High Ntinda to Ministers’ Village. The trip is always about Shs7,000 (she just took an Uber again this morning to the exact place, it cost her Shs7,000). But Richard yesterday charged her Ug Shs 16,000! Her phone reflected Shs7,000 and his reflected Shs16,000. When you scroll through Richard’s reviews, there is a similar complaint,” one comment reads.
The drivers take advantage of riders who do not understand the app: at the end of a trip, riders can see the trip cost by opening past trips in the “Your Trips” section of the app. In a WhatsApp group of Uber drivers, one cautioned the others to not show screenshots to “riders who know the app well.”
Drivers use screenshots shared in the same WhatsApp group to show riders at the end of their trip.
Low rates remain a common complaint among Uber drivers since the company reduced prices for riders in February. The company reasoned that its “experience in hundreds of cities — from New York to Singapore, Lagos and Nairobi — has shown that the boost in rider demand because of lower fares typically leads to higher driver earnings.”
Instead, several drivers we spoke to say they find Uber less profitable. They say the terms governing their relationship with Uber – which sees and classifies them as partners, not employees – are unfair.
The drivers own the cars, although most in Kampala are driving vehicles owned by someone else to whom they may pay an agreed fee for use of the vehicle. Uber does not cover insurance, repair, servicing costs, nor levies like the annual licencing rate the Kampala Capital City Authority now charges taxicab drivers.
Drivers keep 75% of the fare price for each ride while Uber takes 25%.
The Silicon Valley-based company launched operations in Uganda last June. To attract drivers, it offered generous incentives that rewarded drivers for staying online longer and the number of trips they accepted. But, with time, these became less generous, forcing some drivers to deactivate the app; some only come online when there is a bonus.
Most of the driver-partners drive for Uber full-time and use it as their main source of income. To increase their earnings, they need to drive more trips and therefore stay online longer.
Because they need cash – both for the end of the day, and to cover daily expenses like fuel – most drivers have resorted to rejecting requests by riders who pay using credit cards.
Card trips are especially undesirable because most drivers do not pay Uber the 25% owed on every trip. Over time, the money accumulates; one driver told his colleagues on WhatsApp that he currently owes Uber as much as Shs2m. With a card trip, the fare is credited to Uber which then deducts its share and whatever else the driver owes it. It also wires money from such trips to the drivers once a week.
Uber is actively trying to increase the people who drive for it. The more drivers they can have across Kampala, the quicker they can get to riders. One of the many rider complaints has been the longer waiting times – at least compared to the app’s first months – before pick-up.
It is the first time Uber Uganda is expelling drivers from its platform. Usually, it would suspend them for a period of time before letting them back on to the app.
Attempts to reach Uber officials for a comment were futile.