Uber, the service metered taxi drivers love to hate, is going to trial letting its drivers in South Africa accept cash from Thursday 26 May. It’s a ballsy move given Uber’s cashlessness is one of its key selling points, and considering South Africa’s reputation for being home to opportunistic criminals, who might relish the idea of being able to order a mugging victim from the comfort of their mobile phone.
But the move also makes sense if Uber is to expand its customer base beyond those sufficiently well-heeled to have a credit or debit card.
“We’re always looking at how we can make it easier for people to benefit from the convenient, safe and affordable option of taking an Uber,” says Alon Lits, GM for Uber Sub-Saharan Africa. “This experiment will help us understand whether riders and driver-partners welcome the choice of paying by cash or card. As before, all trip details are electronically recorded and riders will always be able to pay by debit or credit card if they prefer.”
Lits says one of the motivations for the move was to reduce the reluctance of first-time riders who may be wary of handing their card details over to a mobile app. Despite having one of the most advanced banking systems in the world, South Africans remain pretty nervous of online or digital payments. Given that banking system is the result of also having some of the most sophisticated criminals, who can blame them?
Of course, Uber’s primary motivation is to get more people using the service so that its drivers spend more time on the road, doing more trips, each of which Uber gets a cut of. It says the lessons it learns from the experiment could have implications for Uber’s operations in other markets. In other words, if it works we might see it offered elsewhere. If it turns out to be a call-a-mugging-victim disaster, Uber knows not to spread the offering around.
Uber says this is “an open-ended experiment” so “not all riders will see this additional payment option right away”.
We’re just hoping Uber drivers taking cash don’t suddenly start expecting tips in addition to five-star ratings, because that sort of expectation is exactly the sort of thing that’s put most people off meter taxis. Or that they suddenly and conveniently find themselves without change to hand, another favourite of the meter taxi industry.
You can bet Uber’s considered all of these eventualities, particularly the potential safety concerns. We’ll let you know how they plan to address them as soon as we find out.