8 December 2016

Nigeria: Uber Responds to Threat By Lagos Govt. to Clamp Down On Cabs

Uber, a U.S. online transportation company, has said the recent threat by the Lagos State government to clamp down on its cabs was due to the government's erroneous classification of the vehicles under its platform as taxis.

Ebi Atawodi, General Manager of Uber West Africa, said Wednesday that the company operates Cab Hire Services; and not taxis which the Lagos State Traffic Law seeks to regulate.

"A taxi driver negotiates fares off the road but a car hire service must be pre-booked," said Ms. Atawodi, responding to a PREMIUM TIMES question during a meeting with the media in Lagos.

"This is a global definition across the world. So in normal cities, in London, in Dubai, New York, France, you always have taxi with what you call the sputnik, which is the light on the top, probably markings and the numbers and so on. And you will have your car hire service, in the UK and other places it's called mini-cab, where it's unmarked, you call you pre-book.

"The fundamental difference is that you're pre-booking by app, as opposed to calling. A car hire service cannot go on the road and flag people down. Why is that? The pre-booked service shows that somebody has taken responsibility of checking certain requirements: this person is who they said they are, this is the licence plate number, this is the driver's phone number. Otherwise, people will just pick people off the road and you can imagine what will happen to them."

The Lagos State government recently threatened to begin a crackdown on cabs under the Uber platform, accusing the drivers of failing to pay for taxi licences.

Anofiu Elegushi, Special Adviser to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, said Uber drivers were required to pay N100,000 per car for a franchise license, and an annual renewal fee of N30,000 per car.

He said the company owed the state government about N600 million for not properly registering its business.

"We have started clamping down on the vehicles that operate under the Uber app without registration," Mr. Elegushi had told CNNMoney last September.

The Lagos State House of Assembly in 2015 passed the Road Traffic Regulations on Taxi Operations in Lagos State to regulate commercial transportation in the state. The regulations stipulate that in addition to meeting the provisions of Section 40 of the Road Traffic Law, all taxi operators must register their details with the Ministry of Transportation and be issued with a licence. Drivers must also have a third party insurance; hackney permit; and a vehicle not older than 12 years at the time of registration.

"The objective of that bill was to sanitise the taxi industry and make sure you document who is who, so when you enter a taxi you can call someone and say this is the number of the taxi I got. There is actually somebody you can go to, it is not somebody who just painted his car yellow and black," Ms. Atawodi said.

"When that bill first came out, the assumption was that it was a taxi bill to regulate taxis. And that's where the mismatch came in, because, actually, it wasn't very clear what taxi was being defined as because by the federal government basis, taxi is something picked off the road."

Ms. Atawodi said Uber is "100 percent" behind government regulations and had begun an active engagement with several Lagos government ministries and parastatals.

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