Online taxi service firm Uber Wednesday launched operations in Mombasa even as it asked police for protection after one of its drivers was attacked and his car burnt in Nairobi earlier in the day.
Uber spokeswoman Samantha Allenberg told nation.co.ke the online taxi platform is “engaging with authorities and working to understand more” about the latest incident which saw an Uber driver flee a gang of criminals who later burned his car.
Uber is in open dialogue with the authorities, and we remain committed to that dialogue in response to today’s incident," Ms Allenberg said in a statement.
"Any situation where driver or rider safety is put at risk is unacceptable to us. Safety, reliability and choice, not violence, are what continue to draw people towards Uber's driver-partners as well as alternative transportation service providers”.
In the Wednesday morning incident, police said the driver of the taxi was hired by a man at Yaya Centre in Nairobi who said he needed to pick up his girlfriend from Naivasha Road in Riruta.
On reaching Satellite, police said, he asked him to stop so that he could relieve himself but on doing so, four men emerged and set the car ablaze.
Consumer lobby Consumers Federation of Kenya (Cofek) called the latest incident an organized crime against a legitimate business.
Cofek Secretary-General Stephen Mutoro urged police to protect Uber drivers as such incidents were instilling fear in consumers and restricting free consumer choice.
“If you cannot protect investors, you are sending a very bad message. This is an indictment against the government that it has not dealt with this issue very well,” Mr Mutoro said.
This, however, came as Uber exuded confidence in its growth prospects in the country.
On its expansion to Mombasa, Uber Kenya acting General-Manager Nate Anderson said with the launch, Mombasa joins the list of “smart transportation hubs in Africa”.
“We’re really excited to be launching Uber in Mombasa. Giving locals and visitors in Mombasa an affordable, easy and flexible choice to move around the city safely and reliably.”
Uber Kenya Operations Manager Kagure Wamunyu said the taxi service would help “improve urban mobility in Mombasa [and] reduce traffic congestion and the environmental impact of vehicles at the same time”.
“Uber is a new and exciting platform that is changing the way Kenyans move around their cities and we are shaping the future of cities across the world.
"Mombasa is a cultural and economic hub as well as a popular tourist destination that has a need for safe, reliable and efficient transportation and we are so excited to be launching here,” he said.
Uber launched its online taxi hailing service in Kenya in January last year, making Nairobi the sixth African city where it has a presence. The San Francisco-based Uber now operates in more than 399 cities.