/ 18 October 2019

Uber reshapes urban mobility in sub-Saharan Africa

Grant Field
Grant Field, chief executive, FedGroup; Justin Spratt, head of business development: Africa and the Middle East, Uber; and Collin Govender, group executive shared services, Altron. (Photo: Lebo Mashiloane)



Across the African continent, governments are embracing technology companies such as Uber in order to change the way in which people are opting to travel. In doing so, they are addressing urban mobility challenges and helping cities to move smarter.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) the Middle East and Africa are forecast to be home to approximately 3.4-billion people by the year 2050. Within those countries, the majority of commuters cannot afford their own vehicles and therefore rely on public transport to get around. In South Africa, 42.4-million citizens make use of conventional modes of public transport for their transportation requirements, according to the WEF.

Thanks to the rapid pace of innovation within the fourth industrial revolution era, trends such as mobility, cloud computing and big data analytics are leading to the formation of businesses with platforms that are helping countries make transportation more reliable, safer, more affordable and agile enough to respond to unique local needs.

For instance, uberBODA is an addition to Uber’s range of products to cater for Kampala’s and Nairobi’s unique travel needs. Boda-bodas are motorbikes that deliver phenomenal fuel efficiency, especially when you compare their fuel usage and range per tank with those of cars. With lower vehicle costs, the fares on uberBODA can be lowered to the benefit of consumers, without the reduction in fares harming the driver’s take-home earnings.

Another example is uberPOA, which enables riders in Kenya and Tanzania commuters to utilise convenient and affordable tuk-tuks while running errands in the city. The upfront fares in the app liberates them from the hassles of having to haggle about fares or having to walk in search of a ride.

The benefits of Uber’s technology platform extends beyond its ride-sharing abilities. For example, because of its commitment to understanding how cities work, Uber launched Movement in 2017 in South Africa and in 2018 in Kenya, which is a website that uses Uber’s data to help urban planners obtain actionable insights on how to run their cities more effectively and efficiently.

The newly updated Uber Movement website now includes Uber Movement Speeds, a new tool that provides city planners with Uber’s data, enabling them to track vehicle speeds, among other things. Nairobi is the first African city to have this updated tool, and city officials will hopefully gain many new insights into the flow of traffic across the city in the short term, as well as generating solutions for heavily congested points in the long term.

Uber contributing to transport infrastructure

When it comes to the future of the transport sector, not only will it totally change the way people choose to travel, but also how they view travelling. Going forward, the percentage of people who are driving their own cars will decrease incrementally. This is particularly the case when you consider that digital-native millennials, now in their 20s and 30s, are a group who, according to surveys, prize their smartphones above any other possession.

Some surveys go so far as to indicate that young people would rather give up their car than their smartphone. As such, this noticeable shift away from the aspirational attitude towards owning your own vehicle that was dominant a few decades ago (especially in countries such as Nigeria and Kenya that have less formalised transport systems in place), means the future of transport is likely to take the form of transport or mobility as a service, as opposed to individually owned cars.

Over the last century, the size, reach and environmental impact of vehicles have played a key role in determining urban planning and development. However, in a future society where shared vehicle ownership is the norm, urban planners will have the opportunity to rebalance public space and create a city for people as opposed to a city designed around cars. City planners across the African continent will need to focus more of their efforts around multimodal transport. Cities across sub-Saharan Africa will be built with other modes of transport in mind, incorporating features such as bicycle lanes and better pedestrian lanes.

This movement towards multimodel transport has already taken hold across Europe. UberJUMP, for example, allows for electric, dockless bike-sharing between commuters, and allows riders to enjoy a convenient and environmentally-friendly way of cruising to their end destinations.

Future cities will have less pollution, noise, stress and general congestion. The urban space will have dramatically fewer parking lots and far more green public areas. Considering that not one of Africa’s cities has made the top 10 list of CNN’s least stressful cities, city dwellers will certainly benefit from calmer, less congested roads. Fewer tarred and paved surfaces can also be used to implement urban greening initiatives.

The addition of parks and outdoor recreation areas will not only allow for the planting of indigenous carbon-storing trees and plants but will, in addition, allow more water to be absorbed, dramatically decreasing the risk of flooding in cities in regions such as East Africa.

UberAIR concept taking off and looking to land on the reality runway

The future of transport goes way beyond the current cutting-edge mobility technology platform and delves into a seemingly futuristic vision. Autonomous flights will soon be a reality — shared air transportation with UberAIR is planned for 2023. Although there are no plans to launch UberAir in sub-Saharan Africa at this time, Uber continues to break boundaries by advancing the potential of technology.

Uber has received regulatory approval to kick off with food delivery drone tests in San Diego, California. The ultimate aim of these tests is to expand Uber Eats drone delivery, allowing people to conveniently order food at the tap of a button.

With climate change and environmental sustainability becoming a growing priority, greening initiatives will spill out into surrounding suburbs, allowing communities to become self-sustainable. Increasing green areas allows for more land to plant and grow food, store water and even establish solar and wind farms. Ultimately the future of transport, especially on the African continent, is something that will dramatically change the shape and improve the functionality and aesthetics of modern cities across the continent. Like it or not, these changes are not only likely but also imminent.

About Uber

Uber’s mission is to help people get a ride at the push of a button — everywhere and for everyone. Uber started in 2009 to solve a simple problem: how do you get a ride at the touch of a button? Over 10 billion trips later, Uber has started tackling an even greater challenge: reducing congestion and pollution in cities by getting more people into fewer cars. Uber is available in 15 cities in sub-Saharan Africa and in more than 600 cities in over 65 countries. To request a ride, users must download the free application for Android, iPhone, Blackberry 7, or register for Uber at www.uber.com/go. For questions visit www.uber.com

Alon Lits is Uber’s general manager for sub-Saharan Africa