17 June 2017

Hafiz Adewuyi

Uber's Lagos/Nigeria steeply degraded service quality plus my armchair recommendations

Last Thursday (today is Saturday), I took an Uber from First Bank headquarters in Marina Lagos to my mum's place, close to NYSC camp, Iyana Ipaja/Agege. The car was nice but that was the only nice thing about the entire taxi booking. Oh, I forgot the extremely cheap price of the ride (more on that later). It took over 40 minutes from booking time for the Uber which took me home to arrive. Let me tell you how this happened.

At 4:15 pm, I booked an Uber for 4:25 because I was busy registering my new GLO sim at a road-side shop in Marina. Not long after I booked the ride, some driver accepted it and I assumed he was close by and would soon be on his way to my location. Time was running fast, and because I was busy hurrying up the SIM guy so I'll be ready when the Uber arrives, I didn't bother to check the Uber's location.

It was after the SIM registration was done that I looked at the map and realised that this guy was all the way at Western Avenue in Surulere. He knew this, yet, he did not cancel for over what I would estimate to be 15 minutes. I called the Uber driver as soon as I realised his location which was about 15 minutes away. You won't imagine his response.

Uber driver: I can't come oh! I'm in Surulere; Marina is too far away from here.

Hafiz: Okay. Then cancel the ride already! **why did I even need to make this call?**

Uber driver: I can't cancel it oh! They've sent me message that I've cancelled too many rides today already

At this point, my temper rose to boiling point and I think I tried in the calmest voice I could muster to convince him to cancel the ride one last time before dropping the call. I ended the call, brought up the app and saw that he still had not cancelled the ride. Obviously, there was no point waiting for this bitch any longer. I was the one who had to travel over 30 kilometres from Lagos Island to Agege; not him.

I cancelled the ride, despite the warning that I would be charged 1000 Naira for cancelling over 5 minutes after he accepted. 1000 Naira was charged to my account instantly. I also, instantly, went to the View Trips menu, a part of the app I've become all too conversant with since Uber drastically dropped their fares early May, in response to rival, Taxify. With the drop in fares came an almost instantaneous drop in service quality. I guess when there's little incentive for the drivers to be nice, this is what you get.

I selected the freshly cancelled trip, asked for a refund and stated the reason as [driver asked me to cancel]. I wish I had known it was there all this while. I would not have wasted my time and airtime calling that fucktard to get him to cancel. As soon as I chose that option, Uber refunded my 1000 Naira without skipping a beat. How come they trust the customer so much? What if I was actually being dishonest and cancelled because [I was just testing the app o].

I requested a ride all over again and this time, it was satisfying to see that the Uber was nearby, on Broad Street. To cut the long story short, the guy took over 15 minutes to get to where I was; much longer than I expected, given his initial location. Instead of meeting me on Marina Road where I told him I was, he went to park in front of First Bank headquarters gate. Of course, the security men had started harassing him to [GO AND TURN AROUND] before I saw him. As soon as I saw him, I started begging the security men from 50 feet away with a hand gesture as I hurried towards his car. Once there, I jumped into the backseat and off we went.

It had been a stressful afternoon and I was cranky and fagged out. The people at CSCS  had kept me waiting for almost an hour just to print my stock statement of account. It was thanks to them that I was still on the freaking island at rush hour (4 pm+). Lagos rush hour traffic is top 3 on my personal most hated list.

Apart from being tired, I was also heavy. I had just downed a bowl of 200 Naira Amala and 6 pieces of beef and inu eran (cow innards) at the CocaCola amala joint (buka) opposite First Bank headquarters. I had descended heavily upon the food because it was my first meal of the day. In fact, so famished was I before the meal that I couldn't bear to spend one minute to catch up with a friend I ran into, just outside the buka.

I just collapsed into the owner's corner, turned on my Bluedio headphones and pretended that the car was driverless. The driver was not my type (not charismatic enough), so being the shitty discriminating and stereotyping human that I am, I wasn't interested in talking to him beyond the scope of the transaction. I guess the person that introduced him to Uber must have told him it's good to be nice to customers (the reviews). Because after haplessly blaring his Christian music from the car stereo, he asked me 5 minutes into the ride what I wanted on the radio. Just to say something, even though I didn't need the radio, I asked him to put it on 93.7 FM and immediately went on to wear my headphones and assume a prone position on the backseat. I was ready to take off into dreamland.

I had a good one hour nap in my Thursday evening Lagos Uber. By the time I woke up, we were at Maryland. I couldn't go back to sleep, so I sat back upright. I noticed his driving was really rough; so rough I felt carsick from the regular rocking. I put on my seatbelt to mitigate the rocking. I felt there was no point trying to talk sense into this one.

When we got to Ikeja, he told me that he still has to go to school today and that if he had known I was coming all this way, he would not have accepted the ride. I think he said earlier that he only accepted the ride because [and I don't like cancelling customers o].

I'm not sure I said much in response. What was he trying to achieve; guilt trip me? I'd lost all of my fucks for the day; sorry. I just wanted to get home after what was a stressful and marginally productive day. I must have responded lackadaisically to him, if at all.

When we were within 20 minutes of my place, he suggested that I take an Okada for the rest of the journey. This time, I totally ignored him. As in, I didn't even know I can be like that. The only other thing I could have done was to scold him for this behaviour and start an argument, but I had no energy left for that. When he saw I was mute, he went on to ask me how long till we get to my place. I told him 15 minutes, which is fairly accurate. I responded because I'm a really nice guy at my core.

He rode on the regained attention to talk more about his plight and how he would never have come here, had he known the traffic was this much. He would later apologise for saying this, a couple of times. But as they say, words cannot be unsaid.

Perhaps, to rouse some empathy in me for him, he told me how he had missed school last week and how because of this [cursed] trip, he was on the verge of repeating the same thing this week. I looked at him and I could relate to his efforts towards making a better life for himself (shit; you won't believe that I never looked at this man's face directly for even one second of this trip? I don't know what he looks like in real life).

I showed my empathy, not by asking him to drop me here, but by saying: "I hope you find a passenger on your way out of my place". I was done struggling for the day and that meant that I had absolutely no will to come down from my comfy position in this ride till I reached my destination.

Give or take, 15 minutes later, the Uber arrived right in front of my house. For most of the last 30 minutes of the trip, I had to endure this man's hissing, ranting to himself about how he'd made a mistake accepting this trip, and apologising to me about what he had said about accepting this trip. But I honestly could not care less, as long as I got home safe and sound.

And get home, I did. He ended the trip right in front of my house. I thanked him as I slowly stepped out of the silver Hyundai Elantra, looking back on my seat to ensure I wasn't leaving anything of value behind. I felt a huge wave of relief to be home at last. What a horrible experience to have just one day before leaving Lagos. Fuck you, Lagos city!

Little did I know my troubles for the day were not over yet.

Overcharged by Uber

After I settled in at home, I checked on the email receipt and was shocked to see a bill of 5450 Naira. Okay, the ride had been extra long (150 minutes) and the distance was over 30 kilometres. Those factors notwithstanding, even when Uber was still Uber (more expensive but of much better service standards), the ride would still not have been this costly. Haba! When I saw that the distance travelled on the receipt was 81km, I was sure there was definitely a problem here.

I quickly logged on to Uber website and reviewed the trip. The GPS route was totally incongruent as I'd suspected. It was all over the place, drawing routes in the middle of the ocean where no car dares venture. For a moment, I feared that the driver might have taken me on merry-go-rounds while I was fast asleep. Silly me; inside this Lagos? There was no way we would have gotten home within 150 minutes during rush hour if he had actually driven through 81 kilometres as the map stated. Time to get my money back!

I filed a complaint about the charge. Within three hours, an Uber representative had responded. I like how Uber acts very fast and is always more biased towards the customer than the driver in their judgements. My fare was reviewed (based on estimates) down to 2150 Naira (a whopping 3300 Naira discount).

My Uber fare was drastically reduced due to a GPS issue
My Uber fare was drastically reduced due to a GPS issue

Jesus wept! And I wept. I wept for my driver called Abodunrin because he truly suffered for me beyond getting this meagre payout.I would happily have paid him up to 3500 for all of the trouble he went through for me this unfortunate evening.

For the next few minutes after seeing this email, I could not help but feel sorry for this man. Because I knew he must have seen the initial fare and praised God, only to later open up his phone to see that he had lost over 3000 Naira to a dispute which this ungrateful customer right here, won and which he (the driver) had no say in?

Next, I tried to calculate how much he'd take home out of this 2150 Naira.
  • Uber takes one-fifth of the money which brings it down to 1720 Naira. 
  • He probably spent about three litres of fuel on this trip (we're down to 1285 Naira with at 145 Naira per litre)
  • I will assume that the rest is split halfway between him and the car owner. That leaves our hapless Uber driver, Abodunrin with approximately 600 Naira (less than $2) for a 2-hour, 30-minute trip. For comparison, a month ago, I took an Uber for 5 minutes in Salt Lake City and was charged $6 (approximately the same price in Naira as this trip at current exchange rates). Chaieh, o ja mi lara jeh.

A 5-minute Salt Lake City Uber cost me the same as a 150-minute Lagos, Nigeria Uber :'(

Wherever you are Abodunrin, I feel so sorry for what happened last Thursday. You literally worked for nothing. Of course, I have the option of calling you to send me your account number so I can transfer some money to you. But no, I'll pass. No comments.

So, in this scenario, I'd say Uber won, I came second and the driver and car owner definitely lost. The operators are set up to always lose with the current fare setup. I have some armchair consultant recommendations for Uber. I think they should consider them to make the Uber Lagos experience better for everyone that has been negatively impacted by the recent competition-motivated fare reduction. After all, the Taxify whom you people want to nip in the bud has now reviewed their fare reduction upwards.

An armchair consultant's recommendations for Uber Nigeria

  • Allow drivers see passenger location before accepting the ride This would reduce the number of incidences of ride cancellation by drivers. I cannot count how many freaking minutes of my life have been wasted in the past few weeks due to having my ride cancelled by Uber drivers a little too late. The worst of them won't even do anything. They'll just accept the ride and wait at the same location on the map endlessly, until you call them after noticing 5 to 10 minutes after, that the car is stationary.
  • Allow drivers see passenger destination once the ride is accepted so they can cancel quickly When I realised that Uber drivers are blind to my destination until the start of the ride, I was really shocked. It might make sense in other climes but I don't think this works for Lagos or Nigeria as a whole. Why should you coerce someone to take a trip that they believe does not work for them, in the name of reducing discrimination? If someone feels coerced into making a trip, their resultant disgruntlement is definitely going to affect customer service negatively. I believe that within a decent time frame, one would actually find a driver who actually wants to go in each passenger's direction. For the ones living in Sango Otta and working in Ajah, well, take Kabukabu. The baba with a dilapidated Kabukabu also has to eat. Kumbaya, kumbaya.
  • Don't penalise drivers for cancelling within five minutes of accepting a ride, or for declining a ride request
  • Penalise drivers and reward customers for rides cancelled by the driver later than 5 minutes from acceptance time
  • Please do market research and settle on a more optimal price for Lagos You're not helping the customer by making them suffer before finding a driver, putting them through poor disgruntled service (it's only logical that only the low-quality people would stick around with the meagre rewards of operating an Uber after the hefty price drop of May. I mean, just look at my experience up there. I'm happy that the ride did not cost me much, but that's where my happiness ends. Everything else about that ride was shit), and making them feel guilty after a ride for taking advantage of a poor driver who must not have much of a choice to still be on Uber.
Phew. This was longer than I expected. Peace out!

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