By Bimbola Stevens
Uber, the international transport technology company is fast becoming a household name with operations in major cities across the country.
Not only has it served in creating jobs for young men and women, it also provides a safer, cheaper and “classier” way of getting to one’s destination.
That may not be for much longer, as it could end up becoming another entry in the column of failed multinationals in Nigeria. Why? Nigerian drivers hired by Uber have devised means of cheating the company of its revenue. I experienced this first-hand and also have had testimonies from friends, who have encountered some of the schemes conceived to fleece Uber.
Here’s my experience. Last weekend, I decided to take an Uber cab from Gbagada to Lekki, Lagos. I had reckoned that the regular taxis would cost between N500 and N1000 less, but moving around town in an air-conditioned car beats, by miles, travelling in those rickety yellow cabs with drab or dirty interiors.
It took several calls for an Uber driver to find where I was. He eventually arrived in a jet black KIA Soul car. The inside looked clean and smelled nice, as I should expect.
The driver was courteous.
“Do you have songs on your phone you’d like to listen to?” he asked, stretching an aux cable to me. While I had none or was in no mood for music, I thought it was pretty cool to be given the opportunity to make my choice of music for the ride. I declined, rested my head and prepared myself for a smooth ride.
About three minutes after we hit the road, he asked how much I usually pay on trips like the one on which we were going. “Between N3,500 and N4,000,” I replied. I had started getting worried that he was showing signs of having a penchant for non-stop chatter, an attribute that could make the journey a little ordeal.
He suggested that I could pay N3,000. Curious, I asked how he was going to do that, given that the Uber fare system is automated and fares are known at the end of the trip.
“I can cancel the trip and then take you for N3,000” he replied, explaining that we could both benefit from his “generosity” of spirit. That offered the prospect of shaving N1000 off my fare! But I was convinced that what he was proposing was wrong and let him know.
“So you want to cheat Uber?” I asked.
He sneaked a peek via his mirror and said it took a long time to find where I live. “I took this street (pointing at a street on our left), lost my way and I had to pay an okadaman (commercial motorcyclist) to show me the way,” he said as justification.
I was bewildered because I am aware that Google Map map helps drivers find their pick-up locations. Sensing my discomfort, he said: “I’m just trying to help you.”
I ignored him, rested my head. “What a retard this one is,” I thought to myself.
As we got close to my destination and realizing that I was not speaking to him, he came up with an explanation on how Uber drivers rate their passengers and that if a passenger continually gets low ratings, the passenger will become a pariah to other Uber drivers. I ignored him and thought-in pidgin: “Don’t pick me na. When yellow cabs full Lagos”.
On arrival at my destination, he pulled out his phone and said: “Your fare is N3,320.” So, all he wanted to shave off the fare was N320?
He then showed me the rating page and gives me a 5-star. “I rated you high sister. Don’t forget to rate me high too,” he said, as I put my change in my bag.
I thought he’d be lucky to have me rate him one star.
My friend’s experience delivered more drama than mine.She flat mate was a huge Uber fan and the type that goes on endlessly about the transport company representing a sure sign of Lagos “moving forward”. She had the app on her phone, opened a separate account for Uber charges, pays fares for friends through the app and the coolest part-she got freebies such as free rides and slashed fares.
They were best of friends, she and Uber.
Months ago, she told me, she had to attend a meeting on the Lagos Island and requested for an Uber cab.Before the cab’s arrival, she checked her account and realized the balance was not sufficient for her trip.
Immediately she got in, she informed the driver of her situation and asked if she could pay cash. The driver said that was fine. She thanked the driver, paid him N3,250 when she got to her destination and he insisted he kept the N250 change.
A few days later, in yet another Uber cab, she got a debit alert on her Uber Charges account. She had been debited for the previous trip. She told her driver taking her of the situation and he informed her that the other driver shouldn’t have collected cash because Uber gives a few days’ grace to credit your account in cases like hers. She immediately called the Uber driver from a few days ago and he assured her he would find a way to get to her and refund her money.
When next she called, the driver had blocked her line.
She called Uber to complain and the company promised to handle it as soon as necessary investigations were conducted.
Four days later, she realized that they had blocked her account, ending her love affair with Uber. Equally dramatic is the experience of another friend, Esther. She was also sold on Uber, always advertising the coolness, comfort and safety of its service as though she was on some generous commission to do so.
She felt the company’s fares were fair.
One day, she took a short distance trip to her home, one made more pleasurable by the fact that traffic was light. In about 17 minutes, she was home. She requested to know the fair and the driver showed her his phone and her route, with the fare screaming N3, 900. The alarm bells immediately began chiming in her head. She told the driver that the fare could not be correct and that she had paid N2,300 the last time from Magodo to Gbagada. She asked to see the fare on the phone again and the driver impatiently tapped the screen, again pointing at the fare.
She looked more closely and what she found was a picture that had been screen-grabbed and showing the date and the time this was done at the top. She pointed it out to him. Realizing he had been found out, he quickly closed the page and showed her the actual fare of N2,400