Competition watchdog CAK has waded into a simmering row between the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) and digital taxi hailing service Uber.
Uber taxi drivers claim that airport authorities, acting in concert with the police, have been preventing them from dropping and picking up passengers from the major airports.
The dispute recently played out at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) with the circulation in the social media of pictures showing an Uber driver being harassed.
On Tuesday, the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) said it had initiated talks with the KAA, seeking to establish how the agency can facilitate all interested taxi operators to do business at JKIA without disrupting proper functioning of the airport.
“We are consulting the airport’s authority with regards to the reasoning behind their (announcement) and to see whether there are alternative means of organising airport taxi operations in a way that does not affect competition or take away the consumers’ right to choose,” said CAK director-general Francis Wang’ombe.
Mr. Wang’ombe said that the KAA is mandated to regulate transport at the airport, but added that it was important that the agency’s actions did not infringe on consumer choice.
The Kenya Airports Authority Act gives the KAA the mandate to regulate the taxi business within airports.
“Obviously you don’t want to make the airport a market, but that does not give the KAA the power to decide on a criterion that is not known to the other people,” Mr. Wangombe said.
The KAA reacted to reports of harassment by its officials with the issuing of a notice urging travellers to use the officially registered airport taxis (yellow taxis).
“Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) is aware of concerns raised by the public over alleged harassment of Uber drivers at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. We wish to reiterate that KAA does not in any way condone any form of harassment of our esteemed customers, clients, users and/or stakeholders at any of our airports and neither does the authority nor our staff dictate the choice of transport for airport users.”
“We, however, encourage our customers and airport users to use the officially registered Airport Taxis (Yellow Taxis) that are found in various designated waiting and pick-up points within the airport,” it added.
The KAA decision to encourage use of yellow taxis did not go down well with sections of airport users.
The Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek) fired the first shot at the KAA, accusing it of imposing taxi services on airport users, thereby inhibiting consumer choice and violating competition laws.
“The KAA has no basis to act in such a manner as to create a monopoly for accredited taxis. In any case, the KAA has no mandate purporting to license preferred taxis at exorbitant fees. In order to make the taxi business competitive, the KAA must not decide which taxis should get into the airport,” said Cofek secretary-general Stephen Mutoro.
The KAA, however, said it would engage Uber and other taxi firms over the provision of taxi services at the airport.
“KAA is in discussions with non-airport registered taxi service providers to establish a commercial arrangement that is similar to the existing arrangement with the registered providers to officially allocate them space to wait and pick up customers at the airports. This will be announced to the travelling public in due course,” said the KAA.
The competition watchdog wants the KAA to make clear guidelines that taxi operators must meet before they are allowed to move into the airports.
Uber, a San Francisco-based taxi e-hailing giant confirmed it had opened talks with the KAA to find a lasting solution to the problem.
“We have worked together with airports across the world to develop forward-thinking, efficient operating agreements so that people can get to and from their flights in a safe, reliable and affordable way. We are in talks with the Kenya Airports Authority to enable those using Uber to seamlessly drop off and pick up riders from the airport,” Uber spokesperson Janet Kemboi said.
Uber has faced a backlash from sections of Kenyan taxi drivers unhappy with the new competition.
Uber launched in Kenya in 2015, sparking off a price war in the Kenyan taxi business as players responded to the increased competition by slashing their fares.
Credit: Business Daily