My uber today, meaning the guy who drove me to a late meeting, and I should have known better to use such a possessive pronoun. I was late as usual, and was working my nerves hoping the universe will move for me, time would freeze and everyone would make it their business to get me to my destination in time including the traffic police.
Wishful thinking, not even ‘my uber’ was in a hurry, and as I rushed towards him tracking his movements on the ride sharing application maps, my blob on the map moved while his car stood stagnant. I felt this one I will review badly. I reached in and he was calmly surprised that I had made my way to him. Sorry he was waiting to pay for his cup of tea.
I told him I was on the clock and wanted to be in town a-half-an-hour ago. He looked at the maps for the shortest route but kept his pedal steady on a slow speed. He looked at me noticing how my thigh muscles were cramping as I stepped on an imaginary accelerator, and said he did not want to overlap. He wouldn’t want to pay the police tax.
The word tax is creeping into Kenyan conversations so much so that Zacchaeus the tax collector has found its way into top searches in the country. Perhaps because Kenyans are doubting what a tax is or what is not, after President William Ruto said deductions, for housing, health and social security were State collections but not taxes.
Increasingly, Kenyan are finding every point of interaction with the government that results in money leaving your pocket for a government-sanctioned call, even if informally, should rightly be called tax. Even for police bribery. So I asked him, have the police increased their frequency of bribes during these inflationary times?
He said not really, but the Kanjo had. One stop on the wrong part of the street and they would have your collar for Kes5,000.
“When I will drop you, I will have to look very keenly around to be aware of my environment for any suspicious plain clothes. Once you get off I lock up immediately to prevent them from forcing their way into the car to demand a bribe,” he said.
He says if Kanjo gets him, they will charge him Kes20,000 for lacking a business permit license, which ideally should be done by the ride hailing company, seasonal parking, towing and impound charges. With that they would bargain downwards to the Kes5,000.
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If anything the International Monetary Fund should learn from this is that these tax increases they are pushing will only drive up the cost of corruption and incentivize cheating the system to the benefit of rentiers and not the people nor the government.
My uber guy said if only customers understood that for that Kes150 trip with a discount he risks losing Kes5,000 they would understand the frustrations cab drivers have to put up with. The typical Kenyan should know how difficult it is to drive into town, agitated and on edge given the anxiety of driving in Nairobi with all these hovering shadows of Kanjo and then, when you get to the destination, is when they are fumbling with M-PESA to pay.
If you are picking them up, he says, they will be waiting in the building until you get to the kerb and are calling them before they come out to the street. Now wait a minute this is the same guy who just held me up to finish his tea.
“That’s most of Kenyan, I was even surprised that you came out, that is the way white people behave. They actually come out and wave you down, but a Kenyan will wait for you to get outside the building and call them and they ask you are you sure umefika,” he says as a way of compliment.
I took it hook line and sinker maybe perhaps the good conversation made me less anxious as the police erected stops to build traffic ahead of me.
Naturally I asked him about the video doing round on safety of taxis. And he weighed in on the matter saying Bolt have in their pursuit for numbers removed all checks and balances that even he gets the jitters when he hails a cab and the driver’s details don’t match what is on the app.
But he said Kenyans happy to get discounts cared less, sometimes sending even unaccompanied minors with them.
“They do, especially these ones that have separated, you are given a child and told the person at the destination will pay,” he says.
He said that crime among uber riders is on the rise partly because drivers are generally frustrated taking long trips with huge discounts that end up being loss making. One could only imagine what will happen with fuel getting more expensive with the expected 16 percent value added tax on petrol from July.
But not him, he owns his car and he will not be enslaved by the app. He says he has his principles on: no carrying unaccompanied minors, alcoholics or those who want to overcrowd into his small taxi.
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“Most drivers are desperate, when you hail a cab it only shows your destination for an instance like they do not want us to see, ‘tuwafuate tu kama’ machines. The app gives you bad trips because they know you have a loan, mimi I will ask where you are going, if you do not want to say you had better cancel, imagine unipeleke Kitenegela na discount then I come back without a customer using more fuel on the trip than the money I earn, I would rather not get the money,” he said.
He adds that unlike the new drivers joining the business, he has seen it all since he started driving under uber in 2016. From a woman, who came in and asked how much he makes a day and said she will meet the payment and have him exclusively for herself through the day to another, who changed at the back of his car and when he asked her if she was not scared, she boldly told him there’s nothing he could do to her other than sex.
He stopped riding at night tired of crowds of teenagers thronging ten people in his taxi, most times drunk. He even recalled he had these Form Three students, who lit a joint at the back of his taxi. He said he was shocked they were so young and daring so he threatened to report to their parents or drive straight to the police.
“They pleaded with me not to report them. Funny thing though when they alighted, two gentlemen came in and knowingly asked me kama natumianga ile kitu, and from their conversation I could sense they were police. Now I really tried to tell them it was not me, but they did not believe me. Luckily they just laughed it off. It is like entering the elevator and you find someone has farted, then it opens in the next floor and a beautiful lady comes in….” he laughed his way into a tip and a five-star rating.