Uber, aiming to target the unbanked in South Africa, has rolled out a new service that lets riders pay for trips in cash. But the ability for Uber drivers to accept cash as payment is putting their lives at risks.
That’s according to a report by The Wall Street Journal that found, based on interviews with more than a dozen Uber drivers in South Africa, being able to accept cash is making it tougher for them because they are facing intimidation and violence from traditional taxi drivers in the country. Not to mention carrying cash in a country with one of the highest crime rates can be very problematic. “Uber cash is putting our lives at risk,” said Collen, who has been driving for Uber in Johannesburg for the past two years, in the report. He declined to give his last name to the paper.
Uber rolled out the ability to accept cash as payment in South Africa in late May, and since then, Uber drivers have been complaining the limited uptick in the number of fares is not worth the risk. Still, accepting cash payments is expected to be a big business for Uber and one the company said it can’t resist. “When you see the market potential that cash unlocks, it’s very hard to ignore that,” said Alon Lits, Uber’s general manager for sub-Saharan Africa, in the report. The ability to accept cash is already available in Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania and markets beyond Africa, including India and Singapore. Tensions between Uber drivers and traditional taxi drivers in South Africa had been fever pitched but calmed down for a while. Now, they are heating up again ever since Uber started accepting cash payments, the paper noted.
The unbanked population — people who do not have a bank account — is a huge market for the sharing economy, both in the U.S. and overseas. By being able to let people without a credit card, mobile app or debit card pay for services like taxi-hailing apps, these companies are tapping into a segment of the market that has largely been forgotten.