DAKAR, SENEGAL - Ride-hailing app Uber is considering expanding its services to Senegal’s capital.
But in a city full of taxis and drivers who don’t have smartphones, the San Francisco-based company will have to overcome a lot of challenges to be useful to Dakar residents and turn a profit.
The city, like most African capitals, has an abundance of taxis. In most parts of the city, any time day or night, it’s easy to find a ride. But the city is rapidly expanding, and Uber says it has seen an opportunity to move in.
“Any progressive, forward-thinking city that has a need for safe, reliable, efficient transportation is where we want to be,” Francesca Uriri, Uber’s head of communications in West Africa, told VOA. “We are part of a broader mobility movement in establishing smart cities of the future and will continue to explore what our options in West Africa.”
No fixed addresses
Among the challenges Uber will face in Dakar is a lack of fixed addresses. Taxi drivers know the city inside and out and tend to navigate based on landmarks. How the app could work in a city that rarely uses map applications is a big question for some residents.
“Like when you are coming to my house, I will not be able to tell you exactly where my house is located on the map. So, you will have to you know, I will have to tell you a building or somewhere, a school somewhere I can pick you from,” Sa Ngoné, a Dakar resident who has used Uber’s services while traveling in the United States, explained.
“It might work here, but it will require lots of investment because we don’t have the same organization as in the U.S.,” he said.
Unlike Ngoné, most Dakar residents haven’t heard specifically of Uber. But similar services, including Allo Taxi, a service you call and arrange rides with, already exist here.
However, some say the services that already exist here aren’t fully developed, and Uber coming in would be a welcome addition.
“I think if this company came in it would create competition and add something new to the landscape of transportation in Dakar. I think it could work really well,” M. Dieye, a Dakar resident, told VOA.
For most taxi rides in Dakar, riders and drivers must negotiate prices before getting in. Both parties think they would be happier if the price was fixed based on mileage and time.
“If they hire us as drivers, for example, that could help us out a lot,” Modou N’Diaye, a taxi driver in Dakar, told VOA.
Gora Séne, who has been driving a taxi since 1998, explained that often price negotiations lead to him getting paid less than he should, and sometimes arguments with riders end with him not being paid at all.
“[Uber] could work well here. If they hire drivers with experience here they could be successful — like if they hire us, that’s a possibility. But it depends on what they will offer,” he said.
But whether taxi drivers, most of whom don’t have smartphones, will be able to join Uber or compete with them, is yet to be seen.
Uber has expanded to 23 cities in Africa, including Abuja, Lagos and Accra in West Africa.