Why short Uber trips are being cancelled in Cape Town, Joburg – and the incentives to stop it

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

  • Uber riders in Cape Town and Johannesburg have been left frustrated by drivers rejecting trips – particularly short ones – abruptly.
  • The reasons for these cancellations are varied, but better profitability among longer rides is a factor.
  • Uber South Africa says this trend spiked at the end of 2021, coinciding with soaring petrol prices, but has since calmed with some interventions from the e-hailing company.
  • Drivers are now incentivised to complete a certain number of trips each week for “benefits”, including discounted commission to the company or additional earnings.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Uber riders in Johannesburg and Cape Town complain that drivers are rejecting shorter trips, ostensibly because longer journeys are more profitable.

Uber South Africa says it’s aware of the frustrations expressed by many users who’ve struggled to find a ride in recent months.

The issue of drivers on the platform rejecting shorter trips became more noticeable towards the end of 2021 when petrol prices reached new highs. Incidents of abrupt cancellations and rejections have been especially prevalent in Cape Town and, to a lesser extent, Johannesburg.

The reasons for these cancellations are varied, says Kagiso Khaole, head of mobility operations at Uber Sub-Saharan Africa, who stresses that drivers are independent contractors with their own preferences, able to pick and choose journeys at will.

“We are aware of some of the complaints that have come from specific geographies around the cancellations of short trips,” Khaole tells Business Insider SA, noting that short trips were generally defined as those being within 5km.

Khaole says one of the reasons behind these cancellations is driver preference, with some choosing to focus their attention exclusively on longer journeys. Traffic congestion, made worse during bouts of load shedding, also plays a role in drivers avoiding shorter trips in built-up areas where they’re more likely to encounter out-of-order robots along their route.

“[The rising cost of] fuel is a component, [but] just one component. Other inflationary pressures you can think through… we’ve seen interest rates slowly starting to climb up as well, we look at the cost of parts [and] maintaining the vehicle.”

These pressures were brought to the fore in March when drivers on Uber and other e-hailing platforms embarked on a strike, complaining of high commissions deducted by companies, soaring fuel prices, and exploitation within the industry which they argue should be better regulated.

Short trips, in distance, particularly in densely populated urban settings, leave drivers with less room for profit as petrol costs and vehicle wear and tear chip away at the minimum fares charged for nearby drop-offs.

Uber has tried to cushion the blow brought on by rising petrol prices by recently increasing its base fares by between R5 to R15 across all categories. That’s helped lower the cancellation trend, says Khaole, but other measures, like driver incentives, training, and monitoring, are all part of the plan to create a better experience for both the driver and rider.

“Excessive cancellations [or] any fraudulent cancellations are dealt with within the platform, and we do look at interventions before we take any drastic steps, like taking a driver off the platform, we do look at training, we do look at how we can change the driver’s behaviour,” explains Khaole.

But between the “carrot and stick”, Khaole says Uber SA relies more on the former to motivate drivers on its platform, especially when it comes to combatting the trend of cancelled short trips in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

“It’s not just one playbook that we follow… it could be incentivising [drivers] to take a number of trips over the course of a week to earn a benefit,” says Khaole.

“Perhaps a discount in commission, perhaps it’s an additional amount that [the driver] will earn, or guaranteed earnings over a certain period of time.”

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