Three accidents, three different Sundays, all nearly at the same time — in the wee hours. This is the story of a bizarre trend of dawn accidents involving taxis in Nairobi during the weekends.
Last Sunday, a white Nissan Note was going down the hill from Rosslyn Riviera towards Ruaka in Kiambu when the driver lost control, before hitting a power pole so hard that it almost crashed the vehicle.
On the previous Sunday, a white Honda Fit swerved in a bid to avoid hitting another car in front but ended up on the other lane of Langata Road, where it rammed into an oncoming matatu.
And on the weekend before, a Mazda Demio rammed onto the guard rails of Thika Road just before Githurai 45 and badly injured the driver and his two passengers. All the three vehicles, it has been confirmed, were taxis.
Weekends in Nairobi are typically hectic and most taxis make a killing on the two
nights between Friday and Sunday. With tough enforcement of drunk-driving rules, insecurity in Nairobi and the ease of hailing a taxi, thanks to technology, most revellers would rather take a cab home than drive themselves.
What they never know is that the person taking them home probably hasn’t slept for over 20 hours and they have just opted from one kind of danger to another. Why? Poor working conditions, with taxi drivers decrying fatigue.
“The pressure to attain targets set by car owners is too high because if you don’t bring in the kind of money they demand, the next week you will be out of a job,” says Joseph Githinji.
“Taxi-hailing app companies and car owners are the ones making money, let no one lie to you. We have complained, gone on strike severally but no one seems to care,” he says.
A saturation of the taxi-hailing apps has led to increased competition and drivers have to do all they can to make money for themselves and their employers. It is now common for taxi firms to set daily targets for their drivers, similar to the model the matatu industry uses.
Ideally, the car owner and app company are supposed to split revenue based on a set percentage. Uber, for example, takes 25 per cent of what the taxi makes. However, according to most drivers, car owners demand a fixed Sh2,000 per day.
The driver is then free to take the rest but also pay the taxi-hailing apps their share and fuel the car.
It looks easy. But when you factor in that a majority of drivers barely make five trips on a bad day and each trip can rake in as little as Sh400 for a seven-kilometer journey from the CBD to the Junction Mall on Ngong Road traffic, the situation understandably becomes dire.
“Client charges have kept on reducing as more apps enter the market but commissions to the taxi firms have remained the same. That is where the problem is,” says Kenya Digital Taxi Services Director David Muteru.
The Kenya Digital Taxi Services has for the last two years acted as a lobby group for the drivers. It has however been unable to get the traction and influence that, say, the Matatu Owners Association (MOA) has.
A memorandum of understanding signed last year between the taxi app companies, drivers and the government that was supposed to improve working conditions is still gathering dust at the Ministry of Transport.
Now on their own, drivers have resorted to working day and night in order to survive.
Others have devised methods of defrauding clients. Some accept ride requests when they know they are not willing to.
The client after waiting for long cancels the request at their own cost if they are using particular apps.
Other drivers do not register the payment made by the client on the app at the end of the ride. Passengers only get to know that their payment was not effected on the app the next time they want to hail a taxi only to be meet a “complete payment for previous ride,” message.
However, the most fraudulent method is the use of a GPS application known as ‘Lockito’, which affects speed and direction of movement.
By Vincent Achuka, Daily Nation