Uber gears up to ease stressful commutes in Nigeria

Car-hailing app proves very popular among Lagosians
Car-hailing app Uber has frequently attracted controversy — whether over workers’ rightsmanagement practices and its attitude to regulation.
Not so, at least not yet, in Lagos, a city of more than 20m people where the lack of a public transport system is one reason that travelling around is often an unpleasant experience for residents.
Uber’s launch in Nigeria’s commercial centre in 2014 was a relief to many veteran Lagosians and new arrivals such as Tom Saater, a 31-year-old Nigerian photographer, who moved to the city from the sedate capital Abuja shortly after Uber’s launch.
“It’s really difficult and stressful to get around in Lagos [but] Uber makes it very convenient for me,” he says, noting that one of the most trying aspects of hailing a taxi in Lagos — negotiating the price with the driver — is nonexistent with Uber.
Particularities of Lagos have helped the app take off in Nigeria’s commercial capital, says Ebi Atawodi, Uber’s general manager for west Africa.
The Silicon Valley based tech company recorded its one millionth trip in Lagos in July, just shy of two years after launching, she says, noting that it took just as long to log the same number of trips across the whole of the US.
The United States reached the one-million-ride Uber milestone in 2012. That was just before ecommerce began booming in Nigeria, as companies such as online retailer Jumia and local bank Diamond began developing user-friendly Android smartphone apps, introducing Lagosians to making online purchases on mobile telephones.
People from more than 50 countries have downloaded the Uber app in Lagos, according to Ms Atawodi, who says users “cut across very different facets” of society.
Ade Adekola, a Lagos businessman who has also used Uber in the UK, agrees. He says Uber has hit a sweet spot for a range of would-be users who are choosing Uber because the fares are slightly cheaper than taxis and the overall experience more agreeable. “The cars are cleaner and you don’t arrive [at the destination] in a branded taxi, so the whole package makes it seem like a private car,” he says.
Uber — which also launched a service in Abuja in March — has not been immune to the difficulties facing other local and foreign companies this year as Nigeria has sunk into its first recession since 1991. Businesses have suffered from severe foreign exchange shortages that executives say have been worsened by the government’s tight grip on the official value of the currency.
In response, Uber introduced a cash payment option. “It’s about being flexible and adaptable to our market,” Ms Atawodi says. The company offered cash payment in Lagos after rolling it out in Nairobi and Hyderabad. Uber has since introduced it in cities including Manchester and Singapore. Ms Atawodi cites this as an example of a “solution to friction” in emerging markets being adopted in highly developed ones.
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