All intents and purposes, the fight for the Kenyan market for taxi apps is shaping out to be an Uber and Little Cab duel.

Little Cab is a Safaricom and Craft Silicon partnership.

Easy Taxi exited  to focus on South America, from whence it comes. Easy Taxi made the decision after Goldman Sachs, who are also invested in Uber, opted to side with the latter. Some reports indicated that it was acquired by Craft Silicon. However, Craft Silicon CEO Kamal Budhabhatti told  Business Daily that they reached an agreement with some of the Easy Taxi driver partners and employees.

Easy Taxi was Uber Kenya’s closest competitor. Arguably, it could be said Little Cab effectively took its position in the market. However, they are not the only ones.

Taxify, an Estonian company recently made the foray into the Kenyan market, in partnership with Kenya Taxi Cab Association, the taxi  lobby that earlier resisted, and is  still fighting, Uber’s entry into Kenya.

Sendy, a Kenyan errands company, earlier this month introduced Sendy RIDE, a ride hailing service with provisions for cars and boda boda .

Maramoja, which prides itself as a social app with credos such as the belief that Kenya doesn’t have a taxi culture but a semi-permanent chauffeur also recently announced changes.

Others include the Dubai based Mondo Ride and Teke Taxi.

It is expected that Lyft, Uber’s main global competitor is soon launching in Nairobi, in partnership with General Motors.

However, none of the Uber rivals listed generated as much interest and conversation as Little Cab did. And, most of the conversation, buzz and media coverage around it centred on how it was a worthy Uber rival  in Kenya.

Bob Collymore, Safaricom CEO, speaking to Reuters soon after the Little Cab launch was announced said that it was “effectively a  rival for Uber”.

Uber, whose expansion across Africa has , in most cases, been without formidable local competition, soon after  said in a statement that they do not focus on competitors.

They might have spoken too soon. In Kenya, Uber cannot just ignore Safaricom. And it didn’t take long to demonstrate that. Yesterday, Uber Kenya announced changes in pricing which target some of the areas that were considered Little Cab’s advantage.

Cost per kilometre has been reduced to Kshs. 35 for UberX. Till now, at Kshs. 55 per kilometre,  Little Cab had the lower price. The per minute fare has reduced by a shilling, from Kshs. 4 to  Kshs.3. The minimum fare has also reduced from Kshs. 300 to Kshs. 200. Little Cab’s minimum fare is Kshs. 270 or Ksh. 4 per minute.

The changes extended to the drivers as well. In a bid to keep  its drivers logged on for longer, the company is offering up to Kshs. 550/ hour for peak hours and Kshs. 450 for off peak as earning guarantee. This is interesting as these two companies share some of their drivers.  I have taken four Little Cab rides so far. Three of the drivers were also Uber partners. Two of them turned their Uber apps on as soon as my ride terminated. One of the drivers told me that the reason he signed up on Little Cab is because Uber has become saturated, with 4000 drivers so far without a necessarily corresponding customer growth.  However, what tipped him over was the amount that Little Cab deducted per ride earnings; 15% as compared to Uber’s 25 %.

At Kshs.50 charge to drivers for every ride booked, Mondo Ride still has the lowest deduction.

Another Uber driver incentive is the Kshs. 3 less per litre cost that came into effect after announcing a partnership with Total Kenya.

Still, even with these Uber changes, Little Cab still has differentiating factors that would still be considered a one up on Uber;

Every car has a Wi-Fi hotstop.

Plans to have customers  pay using Bonga points.

Option of hailing a cab using USSD, targeted at non smartphone owning market.

Provide free smartphone to the drivers.

Little Cab, just like Taxify and Mondo Ride have no price surge.

Little Cab has a live metre.

LadyBug. This is a feature on Little Cab that only has female drivers. It is targeted at women riders. It is open to both genders during the day but only women can use it after 7.00PM.

The safety of female riders has been a main issue since the advent of taxi hailing companies, and some highly publicized cases of drivers assaulting women, have not helped in driving away the conversation around it.

The focus on these  does not come as a surprise as Safaricom prides itself on making profits from what Michael Joseph, the former CEO, called Kenyans’ peculiar habits.

This, and Collymore’s sentiments in the Reuters interview that Little Cab will be cheaper and better for the local community, could mean that Little Cab are more interested in gaining control of the Kenyan market, for now.

However, Little Cab still has a long way to go, especially on the technical front. Little Cab’s user interface has nothing on Uber’s so far. These things matter to some people.

Little Cab is still buggy. To their credit, Kamal, recently admitted at a forum in Nailab that they launched the rawest possible form of the app, promised improvements.

Uber has great customer service.

LadyBug, Little Cab’s other differentiating factor can be easily duplicated by Uber, if they wish to.

Still, from these developments, it is clear that it is shaping out to be an Uber vs Little Cab trial by combat.  Little Cab is barely months old, but it has managed to force Uber to make changes.

Uber’s move wasn’t a surprise. With the Uber’s CEO competitive nature, and a recent infusion of cash, the single largest ever investment made to a start up, it was a question of when, and not if.   

On the other hand, Safaricom has barely put any resources into Little Cab. Not even an advertising campaign. Could be because the app is still not completely stable. It’d be interesting to see their first move given their legendary devotion to advertising budgets.


image: mpesacharges.com

 

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