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Kenya's Digital Taxi Services Paralyzed, Strike Enters 4th Day


FILE - Kenyan taxi drivers signed up to ride-hailing service Uber chant slogans and dance along the streets during a strike after the company slashed prices in the face of growing competition from similar local firms in Kenya's capital Nairobi, Aug. 2, 2016. Digital taxi drivers linked to various services are currently in the fourth day of a strike in Kenya, protesting low rates on clients and high commissions on drivers.

Drivers of Kenya's digital taxis shut down operations Monday in protest of what they term as exploitative corporate practices. They say the firms are charging low rates to their clients, yet imposing high commissions on the drivers, leading them to work longer hours with little pay.

The Digital Taxi Association of Kenya, representing more than 2,000 digital taxi drivers, is in the fourth day of a protest that has seen drivers switch off their services, stalling transportation in the country.

The drivers say client charges have reduced over time as more digital taxi apps enter the market, but their commissions to the taxi firms have remained the same.

The drivers are demanding a review of their rates and working conditions. Through their association, they want the digital taxi services to double their client rates and reduce driver commissions to the companies so they can earn decent wages.

"The fare itself, it has been very low from the word go," said Anthony Maina, an Uber driver in Kenya. "The percentage after they get their commission, we get very little returns."

The main digital taxi services in Kenya are the American brand Uber and Estonian Taxify, as well as at least three others.

Uber charges a 25 percent commission on each ride, while apps like Taxify charge 15 percent. The drivers want rates at least doubled per kilometer, and commissions slashed to 10 percent.

Kenya Digital Taxi Services Director David Muteru is calling on Kenya's Ministry of Transport to resolve the issue.

"All these things are happening where we have government agencies who can [take care of all these things] without having pressure from us," Muteru said. "It is not our wish to come here and start demonstrating. Our demand is that we must have regulations. [The pricing] is very skewed in favor of the app companies to the detriment of drivers."

Maina says Uber reduced the maximum working hours from 18 to 12 in an effort to better the working conditions, but drivers overwork to earn more to meet expenses.

"We cannot afford daily maintenance, he said. "An example, each and every day you have to fuel the vehicle, you have to wash the car, and if you happen to be in the city center, you have to pay the city council. All those expenses, when you put them together and maybe you do not own the vehicle yourself, you have to pay the partner and you know fuel has been going up every day and they are not adjusting their commission or fare. So that has been a big problem for us."

Earlier in the week, Uber drivers in South Africa also went on strike to protest the 25 percent fee charged by Uber.

Digital Taxi Association representatives in Kenya are in negotiations with the taxi firms and Kenya's Ministry of Transport as their strike continues.

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