Dar es Salaam. The advent of digital taxis in 2016 was a breath of fresh air for many residents of the commercial capital Dar es Salaam, as it saved them from the agony of overpriced fares.
They brought convenience to the driver’s door in real time, with disciplined drivers who were vetted and put their passengers’ interests first.
However, with changing times, particularly in the wake of skyrocketing operating costs, a number of drivers using digital taxi platforms are choosing to go offline when returning to traditional business models. .
In Tanzania, digital taxi driving platforms, including Uber [which, however, has suspended operations in Tanzania] and Bolt have yet to adjust their fares despite falling revenues from the drivers who make up a larger part of the gig economy.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, fuel prices soared with a liter of petrol in June trading for 2,994 shillings in Dar es Salaam, even with state subsidies .
Multiple interviews with drivers revealed that a number of colleagues now prefer to operate under the traditional taxi model, only using apps to get customers, then canceling the trip to negotiate fares directly with their customers.
Citizen’s survey over the past two months found that drivers are turning off the app immediately, with customer boards sometimes negotiating new fares or accepting fees because in the process they avoid paying commissions to boost revenue.
“Offline takes away the commission part of it. The only expense I have to incur on this trip is the cost of fuel which as you know is higher now even with recent government interventions,” adds Ahmed, who operates a Bolt app.
Janet, one of the few female drivers, joined the digital taxi business as a full-time job in June 2020 after being laid off from her workplace following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. 19 which was first reported in the country on March 18, 2020.
“I think it was bad timing on my part, but I didn’t have many alternatives at the time, to be honest, it didn’t go as well as I expected. Customers are there but the rates are extremely low,” says Janet, a mother of two, who showed up with only one name.
But that was at a time when fuel prices had fallen to a record high of 1,500 shillings due to the Covid-19 pandemic which had a negative impact on the global oil industry but has now changed to reach new records.
Drivers also say their crisis has been made worse by regulators turning a deaf ear to some of their demands for better fares.
They say the owners of the app did not take into account the engine size of the cars which are all charged at a flat rate despite the different levels of consumption.
“Cars with 650cc fuel consumption charge the same as 1300cc cars,” says Richrad.
Several passengers interviewed by The Citizen admitted to having repeatedly participated in the scheme after the drivers allegedly explained to them why they had chosen to take this route. “Yes, at first I didn’t understand why he asked me to deactivate the application, but when he explained to me that it would increase his income considering the rising cost of fuel, I accepted his arrangement”, explains Alice, a resident of Sinza.
But even then, some say it could jeopardize their safety in the long run given past incidents of unscrupulous drivers harassing female passengers in Dar es Salaam.
“It depends on the distance and time of day I request for the ride. If I’m going to a remote location, I don’t agree to ride offline. Also, if I’m taking an overnight trip, I prefer to be online throughout the trip as I usually share my trip information with friends via WhatsApp so they can track my location and where I’m going,” says Lucy Tomeka, a regular on the digital taxis.
Uber closes shop
In April, US ride-sharing giant Uber suspended services in Tanzania, saying government legislation that raised fares and cut its commission was making it difficult to operate.
Uber said it made the “difficult decision to suspend operations” in Tanzania.
“The pricing ordinance proposed by the Land Transport Regulatory Authority (Latra) makes it difficult for platforms like Uber to continue operating,” Uber said in a statement at the time.
Under new regulations that came into effect that month, fares doubled to 900 shillings per kilometre, while the maximum commission for transport companies was set at 15% from the previous 33%.