a story on Uber’s Cape Town launch

First published in Cape Argus on October 21, 2013

One of the most popular transport apps in the world has arrived in South Africa.

Uber recently launched in Cape Town, Joburg and Durban, making South Africa one of 18 countries where people are using the app to call taxis and pay the fee without using cash.

Jambu Palaniappan, head of Uber’s Middle East, Africa, India expansion, said: “You hit a button on your phone, and a great car and a professional driver will show up, take you where you want to go and there is no cash exchanging hands.

“Your information is stored on the app. So you get to where you need to be and all you do is get out of the car.

“Uber is also relevant from a safety and security point of view. The idea of being able to see your driver’s face before you know what car it is, to track where the car is, to send somebody else where the location is – that’s super relevant to this market.”

Palaniappan said it was decided to use South Africa as a launch pad for the rest of the continent because of the high penetration of cellphones and the number of people who were at ease with technology.

“We started testing in Joburg in August – that was our first city in Africa – and the response was really positive. Then we started testing in Cape Town several weeks later.”

The response had been positive.


“We look for vibrancy in markets that we go to, excitement – and this country is definitely full of those. High cellphone penetration, comfort and ease with technology, then you layer on the fact that there is undeveloped transport infrastructure and lack of alternatives.”

The app, which may be downloaded on iPhones, Android, and BlackBerry or accessed through the internet, allows you to save your credit card details on it, so money is automatically deducted from your account without having to carry cash around.

Customers are driven in black and silver C-Class Mercedes-Benzes, although Palaniappan said new cars would be brought in as the market grew.

In cities such as Miami, Uber customers are driven around in Cadillacs, while in Paris the company has cars as well as scooters.

Palaniappan said the minimum fare was R45. The starting fee was R12, and the rate R9 a kilometre.

Uber did not own cars. “We don’t really own the cars, we partner with companies who exist in Cape Town.”

The companies are licensed and insured, while drivers have professional driving permits, and have had background checks.


“We also have a rating system where customers rate drivers out of five stars; what that allows us to do is to maintain a degree of quality control that, I think, allows us to stay very aware of who is a quality driver. The ones who are lagging are trained up and the ones doing well are rewarded.”


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