Lola Kassim is the General Manager of Uber West Africa. In this interview with Jumoke Akiyode-Lawanson, she talks about the company’s strategic plans for Nigeria and Ghana, technology in West Africa and Uber’s unique offerings. Except:
Uber is an international company, how is the West African market rated in the scheme of Uber’s global market?
We are really excited about the opportunities in West Africa and see great potential in the region. The uptake since we launched in Lagos in 2014 has been amazing. Riders and drivers love the idea of having another choice on how to move around their cities. We currently operate in four cities in West Africa – Lagos, Abuja, Accra, and Kumasi. In Nigeria, we partner with a significant number of driver partners, providing them with flexible earning opportunities. Currently, we have 267,000 active riders and 7, 000 active driver-partners across the country. We hope to create even more economic opportunities in the coming years and to provide even more Nigerians with access to safe, reliable, and affordable ways to move around.
Uber has recently been empowering women by recruiting more female drivers. What has been the feedback so far?
Feedback has been great, and the uptake of female driver-partners is encouraging. Uber has a global goal of empowering 1 million women by 2020. We are inspired by the stories of our current female driver partners and we are committed to creating additional flexible earning opportunities for women. Towards the end of last year, Uber hosted a selection of female driver-partners, professionals and entrepreneurs to an event in Lagos called Uber for Her. The event, held in conjunction with She Leads Africa (SLA), showcased the many opportunities available for women within the Uber ecosystem.
What is Uber doing to create more economic opportunities for Nigeria which is its largest operating market in West Africa?
Uber connects driver-partners in Nigeria with technology that allows them to be their own boss – taking charge of their careers and in doing so, controlling their own time and money. Uber has allowed people who have never considered driving for a living to use the app to become their own boss, to work flexibly and make money to achieve their goals and support their families. As an independent contractor with Uber, a driver-partner has the freedom and flexibility to drive whenever they choose to. They are able to set their own schedule because there are no minimum times for operating. Other individuals who own transportation companies also benefit from using the Uber app to connect their drivers with riders and grow their businesses.
Uber has been embroiled in several controversies, some of which are wrong fare quotes, rude drivers, and manipulation of the app, made possible through the cash on delivery option and so on, how has Uber handled these complaints?
As I mentioned earlier, Uber is committed to Africa, and remains focused on creating economic opportunities for Nigerians. We are aware of some of the challenges that we’ve had, and we are continually working to ensure that we provide a seamless and enjoyable customer experience for both riders and driver partners. As mentioned, Uber has set out clear community guidelines which outline how driver -partners and rider partners are expected to treat each other. Disrespectful behaviour, inappropriate communication, and fraudulent activities are all in violation of these guidelines and can lead to loss of access to the application. We have come down heavily on fraudulent and illegitimate behavior, as these activities undermine the trust on which Uber is built. We have automated rules that warn and ultimately deactivate accounts associated with fraudulent activity. We always encourage both riders and driver partners to rate their journey at the end of the trip; honest feedback helps ensure that everyone is accountable for their behavior. This accountability in turn creates a respectful, safe environment for both riders and drivers.
What does Uber plan on doing differently in 2018?
In West Africa, our primary focus is to ensure the reliability of our uberX product – providing even more people with safe, affordable, and reliable transportation options and providing more economic opportunities for driver partners.
Does Uber have technology experts based in Nigeria, dedicated to securing its app? If yes, how is this team put together, and what type of training are they given?
Uber is committed to safety of everyone who uses the app. Our technology enables us to focus on rider and driver partner safety before, during, and after every trip. In Nigeria, we have local teams in Lagos and Abuja. Our global customer support team is ready to respond to any issues 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We also have a dedicated specialised Incident Response Team available 24/7 to answer more urgent issues.
What are you doing to ensure reports on misconduct of the drivers are in check?
Before being allowed on the Uber app, drivers must have a valid Drivers’ License and complete a screening in addition to meeting vehicle document requirements. Once driver partners are on the app, we utilise a rating system as a way of encouraging mutual respect between drivers and their clients. Both parties can rate one another on a five-star scale at the end of a ride and provide feedback. Our customer support team reviews this information and investigates any issues. In order for Uber to continue to maintain high standards when it comes to the driver partners and riders using the app, Uber has set out strict community guidelines.
These guidelines are designed with the best interests of drivers and riders in mind and outline the behaviours that can lead to a driver partner or rider losing access to the application. The guidelines cover, among other items, issues that relate to respectful behaviour, quality, fraud, safety and discrimination.
How is it operating in the Nigerian market, Vis-a Vis regulations and government policies?
Uber is pro-regulation, and we have been working closely with regulators to help shape the future of ridesharing. Many regulators across Africa have been positive about Uber’s technology and the benefits we bring to riders, driver-partners and cities. Nigeria’s House of Representatives became the first national government in Africa to unanimously vote in support of a resolution embracing ridesharing.
What are the gaps in the technology industry that you would like the government to address for a more seamless operation?
Uber is pro-smart regulation and for this to work we need to work with regulators that support innovative technology that fits consumer demands in the 21st century. Since launching in Nigeria we have been engaging positively with policy makers on this topic. We will continue to work with the government on both the State and Federal level to ensure that we address some of the country’s most pressing challenges like urban mobility and transportation.
When does Uber plan to start its carpool service?
We are currently testing uberPOOL in various cities around the world; however there are no official launch dates as yet.
What stands Uber out from other taxi app services?
Safety: Uber remains committed to the safety of both riders and driver-partners. Our technology makes it possible to focus on safety for riders and drivers before, during, and after every trip. For example:
●Before the ride:
Before a rider enters the car; they are provided with details of the driver and their vehicle. Once a driver accepts a request, the riders will see their driver’s name and photo, vehicle type and license plate number. Uber has also introduced ‘vehicle colour’ into the app so riders are able to recognise their Uber rides even before they’re picked up.
●During the ride:
Our technology allows for GPS tracking of your trip. Your location is clearly shown in the app so you know where you are on your journey and you can share your estimated time of arrival (ETA) and real-time location with friends and family.
●After the ride:
We encourage riders and drivers to rate each other and provide feedback after trips.
In Nigeria, we have also partnered with AXA Mansard to provide insurance cover to riders and driver partners against death, permanent total or partial disabilities, medical and funeral expenses in the event of an accident occurring while using the app.
● Support and features for drivers:
In Nigeria and Ghana, we have state-of-the-art, Greenlight Hubs, which are support centers to provide real-time, on-site assistance to driver partners. We also host regular information sessions for driver partners to support them in providing the best customer experience for riders. As part of Uber’s commitment to driver partners we have launched a number of products that put the needs of drivers forward. These driver focused products include: Paid Wait Time; which allows drivers to be compensated when they are waiting for passengers at their pickup location, Driver Share My Trip; which allows driver-partners to share their whereabouts and trip status with friends and family.
Our support and features for riders include:
●In-app chat; The feature helps riders and drivers connect should they need to get in touch with one another to solve for things like road closures, or to just provide information on their exact location. This can be done without using airtime.
●In-app support; our in-app support helps riders get prompt responses to their queries in the shortest time possible.
●Multiple destinations; The Uber app now supports multiple destinations, letting riders add up to three extra stops along their route.
●Driver compliments; we have also made it easier for riders to thank drivers for the things they do.