Uber, with its unsavoury reputation, shouldn’t be allowed here

Wednesday January 28 2015

By ABIGAIL ARUNGA
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Nairobi Restaurant Week commenced on January 22, to the delight of food lovers in the city.

What is Nairobi Restaurant Week, you ask? It’s a period of 10 days when food at selected restaurants is subsidised significantly. A lunch menu at most of these restaurants is Sh1,500, while dinner is Sh2,000.

These restaurants include Talisman, which is always fantastic, and Thai Chi Restaurant at the Stanley, among other lovely choices.

When I was at Jiko last year, the food came after three hours of waiting, served by waiters who were not in uniform, which made me panic a little. Who did they call in to serve, and why the inefficiency on a busy night like that?

This is perhaps why the portions varied greatly and we ended up twiddling our thumbs, first from boredom, then irritation, then resignation — us and the three tables around us.

But overall, this is a brilliant idea, and I am convinced that EatOut Kenya is doing a great job of widening the culture of enjoying food and enriching our palates at a relatively affordable cost. My question is, why did they have to bring Uber into it?

Uber, the American taxi service, announced that it is going to launch in Kenya in tandem with Nairobi Restaurant Week and offer a couple of free rides to certain places above a certain minimal cost.

I have a problem with this type of thing, on a personal and economic level.

Let me explain the concept of Uber. You download the Uber app to your smartphone, and when you want a ride to somewhere you enter your journey and payment details into the app and a driver is sent to you.

NO CRIMINAL CHECKS

If there are many people going to the same place, you can carpool and the cost goes down even lower. Sometimes the rides are cheaper because it is supposedly not an official taxi service, or at least that is how it works in other countries. What they have is just someone who can drive your "taxi".

But, it seems, they don't check their drivers’ criminal records.

Uber is fighting a case in New Delhi, where a woman who took an Uber ride claims she was raped by the driver. They not only did not check his record, but they also failed to learn that he had been accused of rape previously. Complaints about the company’s legality have been made in Denmark and Norway, among other countries.

What really concerns me is Uber's apparent inability to check the records of drivers outside of the Unites States. In all fairness, how good are our criminal records here in Kenya?

Then of course there is the matter of raising prices suddenly if it is raining — we are going to suffer on that one, because we all know what rain does to our roads — or during holidays.

UBER DOESN’T CARE

Fares should be standard, and it is unfair to inflate them based on a whim. It always has been. People need to refuse to accept that sort of thing.

Not Uber, though. Even during the 2014 Sydney hostage crisis, Uber unashamedly charged people more money than they were supposed to — to the tune of $100.

Of course this is unethical. When people are trying to get out of the city, when you know there is potentially a terrorist attack, is that when you increase prices?

As if your people are not the ones trying to escape, and human lives are not worth more than a bigger profit margin.

On an economic level, taxi services will suffer, simply because Uber is not really an official taxi service. It doesn't have to pay the normal business rates, and can thus charge its customers less.

On a personal level, the business model is sketchy; on an economic level, it isn't a good idea for anyone other than Uber. On a security level, if we are ever attacked again, God forbid, Uber doesn't care about saving anything but its bottom line. On a global level, multiple countries are banning the service because of its irregularities and practices.

So why are we still welcoming Uber into Kenya?

Whose idea was this anyway?

Twitter: @AbigailArunga