Uber and Bolt drivers in Kenya have organised a go-slow protest to pressure both ride-hailing companies to lower the commission levied on their fees. Uber charges a 25% commission per single ride, while Bolt charges 20%.

These demonstrations are not new; taxi drivers have long complained of low pay and demanded a reduction in commission. Taxi drivers on ride-hailing platforms established the Kenya Digital Taxi Association to address the ongoing issues with income and welfare they face while working for the companies. They have previously engaged in industrial action a number of times, with some claiming they are sick of being treated like “Uber slaves“. Like in previous protests, some drivers have declined to accept trip requests on the apps, especially in areas such as Eastlands, Kasarani, Nairobi CBD, Waiyaki Way, and the Kilimani area. Some drivers accept rides but complete the journeys without the app, that is, offline.

The protesters want Uber and Bolt to lower their commission, which has stayed the same despite rising operating costs on the part of the drivers, citing the rising cost of fuel. According to Zachariah Mwangi, chairman of the Organization of Online Taxi Drivers and Digital Taxi Association of Kenya, “We are still operating with the same price when fuel prices were at Ksh97 ($0.80). Kenya’s fuel prices have skyrocketed; in Nairobi, a litre of gasoline costs Ksh179.3 ($1.49), and a litre of diesel costs Ksh165.82 ($1.37).

Since 2016, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) has been creating regulations to meet their ostensible needs. The NTSA published regulations on June 20 setting a national cap of 18% per trip for the commission paid by drivers to digital taxi operators. Local ride-hailing services like Safaricom’s Little already impose fees in that range, at 15%. Others, including Bolt and Uber, were required to adhere to the rules and lower their commissions by September 22—three months after the notice—but they haven’t. 

About two weeks before the big day, Uber submitted a legal petition challenging the new rules on the grounds that Kenya is a free market and ride-hailing companies have the right to negotiate business deals without outside interference. Uber asserted a number of things, one of which was that the introduction of 18% as the cap on the maximum commission has the potential to stifle innovation and lessen the viability of its market investment. 

Bolt has not yet publicly reacted to the ongoing demonstrations, but Uber Kenya has stated that it is aware of the go-slow by some drivers and that it would continue engaging them on their concerns. It has also said that it is aware that a small group of e-hailing drivers plan to go offline, not using the app to complete rides. “We respect drivers as valuable partners with a voice and a choice, and we want drivers to feel they can talk to us about anything at any time.”

For similar reasons it cited in its petition against the new rules in Kenya, Uber recently moved its operations out of another East African nation, Tanzania. The ride-hailing platform had been in Tanzania for six years before the Land Transport Regulatory Authority (LATRA) ordered all ride-hailing services in Tanzania to lower their service fee from a 25% commission to 15%. The new changes demanded by LASTRA were also opposed by Bolt Tanzania, but when the organisation refused to budge, Bolt Tanzania resorted to restricting its operations in the nation to corporate clients.

Ngozi Chukwu Reporter

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