Nairobi’s taxi drivers turn to violence to halt Uber

Reports from Nairobi yesterday spoke of an outbreak of clashes between regular taxi drivers and drivers of Uber cabs in a turf war clearly getting out of hand. From earlier intimidation and harassment tactics, the fight over customers yesterday escalated to beatings and fist fights, including some damage to cars inflicted on Uber vehicles. Users of Uber services are paying at times only half for the same distance across the city, which fueled added demand for the web-based service.

Uber reacted to the reports about their drivers being subjected to beatings and intimidation when in a statement seen the company said: “Recently, you may have heard of cases of isolated intimidation towards Uber driver-partners. These cases shock and sadden us, as these driver-partners are simply using the Uber platform to earn a living for themselves and their families.”

It is understood that Uber has sought to open a dialogue with the association representing the conventional taxi drivers but were apparently snubbed, prompting the company to issue a stark warning to their contracted drivers which in part read: “Please be alert and aware in this area by concealing your Uber device and ensuring that your pickups and drop offs take place in public, well-lit areas. In case of intimidation, please report to police and Uber.”

Social media comments from taxi users condemned the confrontation, and many tweets blamed the rise of Uber services in Nairobi on the alleged overpricing of taxi fares. Meanwhile, taxi drivers were holding meetings to scheme how to drive Uber out of what they think is their city.

There are at present no indications that any passengers of Uber contract vehicles had come to harm or were involved in any of the reported scuffles, but certainly caution is essential, in particular for foreign visitors, to stay alert and walk away when trouble seems to be brewing.

Authorities in Nairobi have also remained silent about these confrontational tactics by regular taxi drivers prompting added criticism that security services did not intervene promptly nor with enough determination to clamp down hard on trouble makers.