It is unacceptable to harass our drivers —Uber boss

Lola Kasim, the General Manager, Uber West Africa covering Nigeria and Ghana, is a seasoned professional with over 10 years of international experience working at senior private sector and government levels in Africa and Canada on strategy development, operations, policy making and capability building. In this interview with Sanya Adejokun, she speaks on difficulties being encountered by Uber partner drivers with traditional taxi drivers at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and the efforts being made to tackle them.



how has market been for uber?

That is a great question. Business I think in Nigeria overall is going very well. I cover west Africa, so for us, that’s Nigeria where we have Lagos and Abuja, and then Ghana as well. To be honest, the growth over the past few years have been phenomenal. This year marks our 4th year in Nigeria, so in July 23rd, we had our 4th anniversary, and since launch, the growth has been great. We have upwards of 8,000 driver partners and more than 100,000 plus active riders, that’s thousands of people who are benefiting from the application on the driver partner side essentially to make a living and have increased economic opportunities, and then, for riders, it is a new way for people to move around the city to get from A to B, so, we are quite excited about that.


In how many cities are you operating in Nigeria?

In Nigeria right now, its Lagos and Abuja, so, Lagos since 2014 and Abuja since 2016.


Where next?

Great question. So, we were asked this earlier on when we were speaking with our driver partners. We want to be everywhere. Uber’s aspiration is to be everywhere, every city where people are forward thinking and they want to embrace technology, so, stay tuned and hopefully within the next year, you’ll see some additional places.


there has been this issue of security with your driver partners, how are you thinking about improving their security?

I think number one, let me start by saying safety is a huge priority for us, and this is not just for us in Uber west Africa, this is Uber global, so, in 2018, safety is like our top priority as a company.

And so, what does that mean? It means for us, we are always looking at ways we can improve and enhance safety both for our driver partners and also for our ridders. So, I will highlight some of our safetjhuy features, the things we have been doing over time. So, with our technology, we have several things in place that ensure that we have enhanced safety before, during a trip and after a trip and this is both for both drivers and for riders as well. Before a trip, essentially, a rider can see ‘okay, this is the name of the driver who is picking me up and this is the driver’s plate number’.

On the driver’s side, they also get to see the name of the passenger, so, if a passenger comes to the car, they can say – what is your name, make sure that the person who is coming into your car is the same person that requested a ride. That’s one thing. Before the trip, we allow people to ensure that they are getting into the right space.  During the trip, something that’s critical for us is that we can use GPS to track where anyone is during the trip, and this is a feature we have for a long time for riders so, a rider can in fact, share their journey with their friends and last year, developed a new feature for drivers, so drivers can now share their trip with their wives, their husbands or someone, just to make sure that especially if it is late at night, people know that they are safe, and then of course, after the trip, one of the things we do is to ensure that there is feedback. If anything were to happen before a trip or after a trip, we have 24/7 global support, so, a driver partner or a rider can write in immediately after a trip, where for instance, there is an accident, they can write in to get the support that they need.

Those are some, but there are plenty more safety features. There is also the Rapid Response Team (RRT) that attends to the more serious cases where the rider is reporting an incident. It is very easy to use within the app if you have a safety related issue, you just have to select the relevant option, you write in the issue, and the description of what exactly occurred, and also a description of your location, and in less than three minutes, you get a phone call from the RRT anytime of the day.


When you started, did you envisage that your drivers will get to places such as Airports? and did you speak with the authorities?

That is a great question. Number one, harassment or intimidation of any kind is not acceptable. That said, it is clear from the experience of Uber in many places around the world, there are people who are not necessarily ready to embrace technology, and Uber is an open technology, anybody with a car who meets certain requirements can choose to use the Uber application. We are an open technology, but of course, there are always going to be people who may feel threatened by the introduction of these technologies. Regardless of that, it is not acceptable to have any harassment or intimidation of driver partners such as what we have seen in Abuja.


We know that at the airports, and even within town, there are transport unions. can you take us through what you have experienced at the airport so far? what are your experiences in Abuja? are your drivers experiencing such in lagos? and if so, what are you doing about it?

On the Abuja case, it has been quite discouraging for us to hear these incidents of harassment and intimidation at the airport which have gone on for quite some time, for more than a year now I would say. And these incidents can be anything from verbal to physical harassment. There are few things that we have been doing. Number one is ensuring that driver partners and also riders feel safe when having pickups at the airport. That is our number one goal. Safety and security of drivers, riders and everybody else at the airport. The airport is a place where people are entering a city, this is a place that is a welcome point for everybody, and for us, it is unfortunate that we have a situation where people don’t necessarily always have that best experience. And people should be able to choose how they want to move around from the airport, some people may have someone to come pick them up, some may choose Uber, some people want to take another means of transport. People should have that choice and feel safe about it.

So, priority for us has been engagement with the relevant authorities in this case FAAN, so, we have been engaging at the highest levels since last year to advocate for two main things. The first is ensuring safety and security for pickups at the airports, and the second is simply trying to work an arrangement or partnership at the airport to ensure dedicated and safe waiting spaces for our driver partners. So, over the past months, we have engaged severally with the authorities to this end, and to be honest, we are frustrated by how slow the progress has been, but we are optimistic that we will be able to work out an agreement in due course.


Lem that is happening in Abuja is still happening in Lagos?

No. I would say that we don’t see this problem to the same extent in Lagos.


The agreement with faan that you spoke about, will it involve registering uber with faan?

Again, I cannot speak to the details, you know things have not been finalized. What we would like to work out with FAAN is an arrangement where FAAN gets some payment from Uber driver partners for space.


What are you doing to boost confidence of your drivers and passengers?

One, we are regularly communicating with driver partners, and just to be alert and aware when having pickups at the Abuja airport. Another thing is why I was in Lagos today to talk with our driver partners, we want to update them on the situations, to keep them updated, and also to hear about their specific experiences and challenges, and ask for suggestions on things we can do to improve our service to them, not just in the airport, but generally as well.


Have you experienced any impoundment of your car? and what have you been doing in those situations

In some cases, Uber driver partners’ cars have been impounded, and in cases where there has been proof of impoundment, Uber may in some cases compensate the driver partners for this impoundment.


The Nigerian airport is under the jurisdiction of the Nigerian police. have you thought of intimating them in cases of harassment and intimidation?

We have been encouraging and will continue to encourage our driver partners to report cases of intimidation to the police because as you rightfully said, it is under their jurisdiction, and in a situation where a person has been intimidated, we want them to report them to the police.


How do you see the recent commissioning of the light rail in Abuja? would it affect your business or is it another opportunity for you?

That is a great question. Personally, it is very exciting because Uber is a technology company that is trying to help people move from point A to point B, and our aim is not to replace public transportation, or be a complete alternative, we want to work with public transportation, so, when you see a city like Abuja get this modern technology, it is really just exciting. For us, it is just exciting and essentially Uber mobility [being about] how can people move around the city. We want people to have as many options for transportation as they can.


How do you try to involve people in this new technology, so that they can understand that there is an opportunity for them? have you thought of speaking with the nurtw and the nato?

The key thing for us, is that the technology is open, so, what it means is that is somebody wants to, maybe if somebody has a car that they are driving maybe as a private car hire, and they decide ‘hey, I would like to explore using Uber to earn additional income’, everyone has the opportunity to potentially use this as another earning opportunity. So, for us, as much as possible, we try to communicate better that technology is open, and anybody who is interested, there are many ways for people to come and learn about the benefits Uber can bring to them. We have always welcomed as many people as are interested regardless of their affiliation with any union.

There are some people who sign on with their private cars, and there are some fleet managers who may own up to ten cars with ten drivers, that fleet manager essentially is the one we have a relationship with.

Another thing about Uber is the flexibility, and essentially, anybody who uses can be their own boss. You can say ‘I want to do it full time, I want to do it Monday to Friday, ten hours a day, or two hours a day’. So, if you have another job that you are doing, it is fine. Most importantly, we are trying to reduce congestion, and reduce how many people we have on the road, Uber is not against taxi, so, if we all find a way to collaborate, we can make our cities less congested, and at the end of the day, that is where this our disruption is going because technology that disrupts but does not impart on people’s lives is not really technology. We all want to improve our mobility, and what is the best and biggest way to do it.


There are so many startups in the market. are you seeing them as competitors or as partners?

We see competition as a sense of creating more choices for consumers, so, it gives riders different platforms to choose from, same thing with drivers, and at the end of the day, this is good for the consumer, so, competition is not a bad thing, it is a good thing. What it does mean is that everybody has to up their game, so it means Uber as a company, we need to keep working every day to try and ensure that we are providing the best possible level of service to our driver partners similarly that we are providing great quality of service for our riders as well, and we are confident that we are doing that.

We stand for safety, and we are constantly innovating on our technology for both riders and drivers, and we launched a brand new driver app which driver partners are really enjoying. These are the kind of things that will make us stand out, but the competition is good and everybody has to work harder to provide a better quality of service.


Going forward, what should we expect from Uber?

Going forward, we are constantly innovating and trying to improve our levels of service, so, I think we are always trying to ensure that riders can get safe, reliable and affordable rides. In the next years, look out for where we grow, and what products we have.