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The mobile application Uber was considered a game changer because it was one of the inspirations for the sharing economy, where people could start business using their own phone and property. Soon many similar companies such as Lyft popped up all over the world. Uber is even in neighboring Kenya and over 66 countries and 507 cities worldwide. Many other companies have replicated its business model, a trend that has come to be referred to as ‘Uberification’. A person simply downloads the application and then when they want a ride pushes a “trip request,” button. The request is sent to a diver. These drivers are independent contractors using their own car. The price is flashed to the potential customer along with the estimated time of arrival. If the customer accepts the terms the driver comes to them. The transaction is usually then completed electronically as the app automatically calculates the fare and transfers the payment to the driver. Hbatamu Tadesse is cofounder of ZayRide. He is attempting to replicate an app similar to Uber in order to begin ride sharing services in Addis Ababa. Capitals’ Tesfaye Getnet sat down with Habtamu to learn more about this new taxi service. Excerpts.
Capital: What motivated you to start an application similar to Uber for Ethiopia?
Habtamu Tadesse: The inspiration to start ZayRide in Addis Ababa came to me when I saw how difficult the transportation situation was. Each time a person stands in line waiting hours for a taxi, valuable time is wasted that could be used on productive activities like school, work, health needs, or family. Crime is also a concern for pedestrians, drivers and riders especially at night. Taxies do not have numbers, drivers do not have identification and some at night do not even have legitimate driving licenses. Other smoke, drink or chew chat while driving. Drivers have to worry about safety as well since they never know who they are picking up. There are even incidents of taxi drivers being killed and many of those cases remain unsolved. ZayRide will help improve safety because all drivers and riders are registered. We know who they are; we have their pictures, phone number, and home address. This will make our platform the safest in the country. Taxies can at times be inconvenient as well. Taxis usually wait for customers on main roads or near hotels and nightclubs. However 60% of contract taxi users in Addis Ababa are found in neighborhoods. Often for this reason, finding a contract taxi is a matter of luck. ZayRide is here to change that by making it more convenient than ever. Requesting a taxi is now easier than making a call. Taxi fees are not regulated or standardized so it is up to the customer to negotiate the price with taxi drivers every time they need one. The way you dress, your race, the weather, the time of day, the traffic conditions, affect your fare. With ZayRide, riders’ pay based on distance traveled so they will always pay the market fare. There is no room for ripping customers off.
Capital: How many people in Addis Ababa have registered with ZayRide so far and what has the response been like?
Habtamu: Over 12,000 users have been registered and we have completed over 1,000 rides so far. The feedback we received has been positive. It is motivating us to work harder so we can give our riders the wonderful service they deserve. Most of our riders are repeat customers. That means we are doing what we are suppose to. Since we are in the early stages we have a lot to do. I’m sure we will get there with the team we have today.
Capital: Are the roads in Addis Ababa and the telecom infrastructure suitable for this application?
Habtamu: We made our application suitable for Addis Ababa. It works perfectly with slow Internet such as 2G. We decreased the resolution of images used in the application and we minimized functionalities in order to achieve that. Our application can be used almost anywhere in the world including most African countries. As a backup we are setting up a call center that allows customers to order a taxi without Internet. This will increase our customer base because now ZayRide can give service to those who do not own smart phones.
Capital: Some taxi drivers fear that this new application will snatch their customers since it’s a more modern system, what do you have to say about that?
Habtamu: It’s actually the other way around. As I just said, sixty percent of Addis Ababa’s contract taxi users are found in neighborhoods and taxi drivers usually wait for customers on main roads and big hotels. ZayRide can easily connect those underserved customers with taxi drivers quickly. Our system will dispatch the nearest available taxi to you, which will save you time. We also provide taxi service to corporations at a cheaper rate. A similar platform exists in more than 268 cities world-wide and taxi drivers have increased their income threefold. We believe Addis Ababa’s taxi drivers will benefit from our platform
Capital: What are the challenges faced in applying this app in Ethiopia?
Hbatamu: The challenge we are facing right now is the outage of mobile Internet in Addis. Our business model is based on Internet. The repeated outage of Internet has caused us to rethink our business model and plan. Now we are in the process of setting up a call center so we can continue giving service even when we lose Internet access. We hope that we get Internet access back soon so we can continue to provide our safe, convenient and affordable means of transportation service for the residents of Addis.
Capital: Are Uber like taxies charging a fixed price per kilometer or is it based on an agreement with the customer?
Hbatamu: ZayRide charges based on the distance traveled. Until the government gives us a tariff we are charging 12 birr per km. This tariff is 20% cheaper than the current taxi price. This will bring more customers while helping drivers earn more. It’s a win-win platform. It will also reduce the current taxi lines seen in the city. We plan to make the cost of contract taxies as affordable as we can
Capital: What is the benefit of using this app?
Hbatamu: ZayRide like services exist in more than 268 cities across the world. It will reduce crime in taxis especially at night. It will also reduce drunk driving related accidents because now people have a safe and modern way of transportation where they know who is driving them. It will regulate taxi fares and it will help get rid off unfit taxi drivers who drink, smoke and chew chat while on dirty. We believe this gives the public a much safer transportation option. All drivers and riders are registered.
Capital: Do you have any plan to expand this app outside Addis Ababa?
Hbatamu: Yes we are looking at Hawassa and Mekelle in Ethiopia and two other cities outside of Ethiopia.