When Uber first launched in South Africa, I enjoyed chatting to the drivers, in particular about what they did before driving an Uber Black, which was the only one available, initially. I met former taxi drivers, a factory supervisor, a truck driver, the unemployed, and even a tour guide. While Uber was something new for all of us, the potential was evident from the get-go, as an avenue for decent earnings for the drivers. And, despite the well-documented challenges Uber has faced, not only in SA, but globally, it is available in 344 cities across 63 countries and 6 continents (according to their stats).
South Africans have taken to the service in a major way, changing the way we navigate our cities; I have friends who only use Uber now. That global network also works in that you have access to the service wherever you are; I used it in LA and it was reassuring to have access to transport without having to figure out public transport in that city.
Uber are said to have “enabled 2000 work opportunities” since they launched in August 2013 which a step in their “commitment to enable 15,000 work opportunities in South Africa by the end of 2017”.
With one of its main selling points being the opportunity for drivers to earn an income, a big challenge has been accessing vehicles, particularly for individuals who don’t have the necessary credit record which banks and other financiers require. To address this, Uber and Wesbank with support from FirstRand’s Vumela Enterprise Development Fund recently announced the establishment of what has been billed as a “multimillion rand (R200m to be exact) vehicle solutions programme’.
Essentially, it is a facility for driver-partners to get a full vehicle maintenance lease from Wesbank at special rates. An interesting ‘by-product’ of being part of the programme is the it enables the driver-partner to build a credit record which should enable them to get traditional finance for vehicles down the line.
To be eligible for the programme Uber driver-partners have to be a holder of an operating license, have a rating of 4.70 or higher and have driven 1000+ trips in the preceding 3 months. The weekly rate for a driver travelling 5000 kilometres a month will be an estimated R1750 and the maintenance lease also includes insurance, maintenance and telematics. The term of the lease is 36 months and the vehicles available are the Toyota Corolla Quest, Ford Focus Sedan and Chevrolet Cruze.
For driver-partners who aren’t eligible for this, they can build up an earnings record by renting vehicles in the short term from Hertz, Europcar, Pace and Fleet Data Technologies. Qualifying criteria for this are having an active profile on Uber and an operating license.
It is good to see Uber continuing to look at ways of disrupting while also ensuring that the service makes a tangible impact on the lives of driver-partners. And it is good to see a traditional financing institution looking at ways of being creative in how it does business and provides financing. But, as the cliché goes, the proof is in the pudding. Time will tell.