Uber basks in phenomenal SA growth


On-demand driving service Uber has seen phenomenal growth since launching in South Africa in 2013.

The Silicon Valley startup has been taking the world by storm since 2011, but its growth in South Africa has been faster than many other countries. This is according to Regional General Manager of Uber in Sub-Saharan Africa, Alon Lits.

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“In a short space of time, we’re doing tens of thousands of trips per day, with thousands of drivers on our system. South Africa is a really great example of Uber’s growth in a marketplace. In 2014 we helped facilitate more than one million trips and doubled that number in the first half of 2015,” says Lits.

This growth can be seen clearly in the below graph, provided by Uber, that demonstrates its growth in different cities during the first 12 months after launch.

Weekly completed trips by city

Read more: Uber drives into Johannesburg with secret tests

According to Lits, South Africa was the first country outside of the US to operate in three cities at the same time, and it has created more than 2 000 work opportunities for drivers thus far. All of this with only around 30 Uber team members based in South Africa.

“Travis [Kalanick] (our CEO) describes each Uber city as its own startup, we have autonomy to build our cities and leverage off central expertise and resources,” Says Lits.

Uber doesn’t expand into new areas with a cookie-cutter approach for each location — duplicating each and every city’s setup — but rather tries to partner with companies already established in new territories. In South Africa, this means partnerships with banking institution FNB (to utilise the eBucks rewards programme) and restaurant review platform, Eat Out (for food promotions). Some of the food promotions thus far have included hamburgers and sushi on-demand.

Read more: Uber partners with Eat Out for on-demand gourmet burgers

He believes that Uber has a lot to offer in South Africa. Not only can it provide South Africans with safe, reliable, and affordable transport, but it can also reduce congestion on roads, which in turn will improve productivity.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with these sentiments. Locally and internationally, Uber has been the subject of a number of legal problems. Many international taxi organisations have called on their governments to put in place new regulations that protect the already established public transport providers.

In South Africa, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has been opposed to Uber’s operations and business model. Last Year, the City of Cape Town began taking action against Uber. By July, some 200 vehicles had been impounded by the City of Cape Town over questions around metered taxi licences.

Read more: Cape Town’s new by-laws challenge Uber operations, 33 cars impounded

Lits says, “We have been engaging with policy and lawmakers for the last two years and it has been encouraging to see how many policymakers have embraced an innovative technology such as ours.”

He says that policymakers are starting to see the benefits of Uber.

“We will continue to be a constructive partner in finding solutions that will create more choice, more economic opportunity and more benefits for the people of South Africa,” he says.

What next for Uber? Well, the US brand is currently testing a number of new services, including those of food delivery.

Lits could not comment on when we might see these offerings pop up in the country, but he did mention that Uber South Africa is currently testing some on-demand promotions, such as the partnership with Eat Out.

Of Sub-Saharan Africa, Uber is currently in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, with a view to expanding into Namibia in the future.

“We want to continue bringing Uber to all major cities in Africa, providing people with another transportation option and proving driver-partners with further economic opportunity,” concludes Lits.

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