by Herman Manson (@marklives) Uber, a mobile app that connects passengers with private drivers licensed to carry passengers, has recently set up in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban in its first foray into African markets. [SPECIAL OFFER FOR MARKLIVES READERS!]

Uber mobile appQuality public transport

Quality public transport remains underserved in the South African market, although cities are starting to wake up to the negative impact this has upon their tourist image and how their citizens interact with their city.

Uber, which vets the private drivers it collaborates with, allows passengers to request a ride via their mobile phones through an app that allows passengers to see what the driver looks like, what type of car will pick them up and the licence plate of the vehicle they requested.

You also get the price upfront, and payment happens through your credit card, details of which are held by Uber once you register to use the service. It’s cashless and convenient, will speak to safety-conscious South Africans, and you can opt to split your fare with friends (they must opt in).

Passengers can also track the vehicle’s progress to your pickup point.

Team of three

When Uber sets up in a new city, it usually starts with a team of three, explains Lindsey Elkin, community manager at Uber Cape Town. That would be a community manager, an operations and logistics manager who signs up new drivers, and a general manager.

Teams expand as the business does. In some markets, Uber is already struggling to find enough drivers — in a bid to alleviate the problem, it recently announced discounted financing or leasing for vehicles made by Toyota and General Motors in some of its high-growth markets.

In SA, the service currently only offers Uber Black (mid-range vehicles). Other services, including UberX (a lower-cost service using everyday cars), Taxi (taxis leased to drivers), SUV and Lux (luxury cars) will come online as demand determines and once the basic Black service is well-established.

Both drivers and passengers can rate one another (so, if you are an abusive passenger, other drivers can avoid you and, if the driver service is lacking, other passengers will be forewarned).

Minimum fares

A minimum fare of R50 is charged in Cape Town. There is a base fare of R15 plus R1.10 a minute + R11 a kilometre. A cancellation fee of R45 is charged if passengers cancel a booked service. Fares are set by Uber.

In Joburg, the minimum fare is R85 and the base fare R60, and in Durban the minimum fare is R35 and the base fare R17 [it really does show where the money is — ed].

Although numbers are not available for either the number of drivers Uber employs or the number of locals who have signed up for the service, Elkin says growth is rapid. New drivers and passengers are found through word of mouth, social media and trade partnerships with event organisers and restaurants.

SA is a springboard into the rest of the continent; Uber is already advertising positions in Nairobi.

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