It’s been five months since Uber Ghana revved up its engines in Accra. According to the receipts in my inbox, I have chalked up over 70 Uber rides, the majority in Ghana’s capital. Overall, I would say my experience with Uber in Accra has been good. For someone who doesn’t drive but is constantly on the go, it is a convenient option. Throw in the relatively cheaper fares, better customer service, and security in comparison to taxis and you can see why I keep coming back.
My First Uber Ride: Lagos
My first experience being an Uber passenger was in London when I shared the ride with a friend. He requested the trip. Until then, I’d only read about the technology company and transport service in the news. I looked forward to one day using the app on the continent. In the end, it would be Nigeria’s sprawling city of Lagos that would give me the pleasure of my first Uber ride during Social Media Week Lagos. I say pleasure because that’s exactly what it was.
Stepping out of the Murtala Muhammad International Airport, I was immediately inundated with offers to transport me to my destination. Thankfully, my hostess has briefed me well. I had downloaded and signed up onto the Uber app before leaving Accra. After buying a local SIM – which I later found out I had paid 10 times more for – I put in my request and waited for Kazeem, my Uber driver. He arrived a few minutes later and we were on our way. In little under an hour and we were in Victoria Island – fortunately or unfortunately I didn’t experience Lagos’ famed traffic. A charge of 4,000 N (about $12) went directly to the credit card linked to my Uber account. Seamless.
The rest of my time riding about in Lagos followed a similar route. I would order an Uber in the morning to go to the event venue and in the evening, I would take one back. With the exception of one driver, all the others were courteous, punctual, and their vehicles clean and in good condition. By the time I left, it was clear there was a system in place. It was very hard to tell one Uber ride apart from the other – consistency! – and it was clear a lot had been achieved since Uber’s launch in Lagos in July 2014. Needless to say, Uber Lagos set the bar high.
My First Uber Ghana Ride: Kotoka International Airport
Because of my experience riding Uber in Lagos and my frustrations with Accra’s taxi drivers, you could say I had great expectations for Uber in Accra: I was very optimistic and excited. Even more so because Uber Ghana was launching with up to five free weekend rides. As a media partner, Circumspecte helped raise awareness about the weekend promo and live-tweeted Uber’s launch on a rainy June 9. If the buzz online and response to my poll is any indication, I wasn’t the only one who was excited.
Will u use it on ur next trip around #Accra?
— Jemila Abdulai (@jabdulai) June 9, 2016
I happened to be going to Berlin for Deutsche Welle’s Global Media Forum that weekend, so I decided to take my first Uber Ghana ride to the airport. That morning, I put in a request for an Uber and…nothing. “No cars available” came the response. In this too, I wasn’t the only one. There were multiple accounts on Twitter from people itching to take their first Uber ride, but with no cars nearby. Now this could have been because the demand was just that high – c’mon everyone likes freebies – or because there weren’t enough cars on the system yet to meet demand. I’d say it was probably a bit of both. In the end, one of my flatmates ended up giving me a ride to the airport. Anti-climatic, I know.
My attempt at taking an Uber home from the airport was bittersweet, you could say. While I was able to get a ride in the advertised timeframe, my Uber driver ran into an issue with the airport traffic officers who clamped his car for parking in what was apparently a no-parking zone. A ten-minute ride home ended up being a nerve-wrecking, two-hour episode at the airport. The Uber driver and I split the 100 GHS parking fine, and I encouraged him to contact Uber for a refund. I also reported the incident through the Uber App and received a prompt response and trip refund to offset the 50 GHS I had paid. They also assured me that they would follow up with the driver. From this incident, it was clear Uber would have to do a lot of ground work to streamline procedures with various authorities. A representative of the Kotoka International Airport who commented on my rant article did say the airport would contact Uber to come up with a process. I’m yet to confirm if this has been put in place.
My Second Uber Ride In Accra: Osu
After my (failed?) first attempt at a smooth Uber experience, I decided to give it another go. This time, I made sure I had nowhere urgent to go and decided to request the ride from home. I also decided to document my second Uber Ghana ride on Snapchat. A driver who was six minutes away accepted in a matter of seconds and a few minutes later I got a phone call. Although I had used the GPS to indicate my location, he asked for more specific directions which I gave. We were on track. Or so I thought. Things went downhill from there. After waiting for 10 minutes without a beep from him, I decided to call back. He told me he was outside, but his car wasn’t there when I checked. After some back and forth, I found out that he was a few streets over and didn’t really know the neighborhood. I decided to meet him at the main road and set off under the hot sun, all the while thinking about the air-conditioner (AC) that was waiting for me.
About 20 minutes after my request was accepted there was no car with the number plate on the app in sight. I called the driver again only to find he was still en route. I continued walking, hoping we would meet mid-way. In the end, a 6-minute wait had turned into 30-minutes. I had walked 20 minutes under the blazing sun only to find a rundown car waiting for me. The inside was no better, both unkempt and smelly. The icing on the cake? The Tema-based driver didn’t know how to use the GPS nor did he have a working AC. I had to give him directions from my Google Maps app while trying to ignore the stench in his car. My Snapchat audience? Well, they had a blast of a time watching my enthusiasm taper down to cautious hope. At least someone had fun.
Overall Impressions of Uber In Ghana
After over 70 Uber rides in Accra and countless discussions with riders and drivers, I have more realistic expectations about Uber. For one thing, Uber is just the shell, the structure that seeks to connect drivers and riders. Your actual Uber experience will depend on a number of factors, including the network and app’s functionality, the driver (level of training, knowledge of neighborhood, ability to use the GPS, professionalism and appreciation for customer service), accuracy of Google maps and plain ol’ fortune smiling down on you. All of this is largely rooted in Ghanaian behavior – the nonchalance with which we sometimes approach things.
Uber Ghana (The Company)
Generally-speaking, my experience with Uber Ghana has been good. Aside the occasional technical glitches and poor attitudes from some drivers, I enjoy the convenience it offers in getting picked up and dropped off and in using a credit card to pay. I also get to keep track of my transport expenses and save money since Uber rides are generally cheaper than taxis. Security-wise and as a woman, it is comforting to know that the drivers have had some level of a background check done on them. That said, I have heard of instances of Uber drivers propositioning female riders or being a bit aggressive. The icing on the cake for me where Uber Ghana is concerned is meeting interesting people (the drivers) and their customer service. Each time I have reported something through the app or Twitter, they have responded promptly. Whether it’s a charge that seems too expensive, an item I forgot in a car, or a driver who doesn’t use the GPS and takes a super long route, the response has been swift. Uber Ghana has done a good job of addressing my concerns, explaining their policy, and in some instances, giving me refunds.
That said, there is still a lot of work to be done. Periodic and refresher training of partner drivers might be useful as many still don’t seem to get the concept of customer service. It would also to have a training for the drivers – who are generally men – on how to relate to their female riders. Continual improvements to its infrastructure and tools – Uber app and especially the GPS – will be critical to its continued success. Better accuracy on the maps would also be great, although I suspect that would be more of Google’s domain. Uber might also want to explore additional avenues for riders to communicate with them. The app, Twitter and email have worked just fine for me, but from some discussions it seems some people don’t know how to reach them. Uber Ghana’s address and phone number are listed on Google, but a dedicated customer service line could help. That said, I did hear a radio advertisement recently about Uber Ghana so maybe they are exploring more traditional methods at reaching customers. Finally, it would be great to have some more promotions and discounts for frequent riders. For example: one ride free after ten consecutive rides.
I’ve probably had a total of 10 terrible Uber Ghana experiences out of over 70 – which is not too bad- and they boiled down to the driver. Many of the drivers I have encountered have been professional, patient, and even friendly – if not punctual. They are also largely men, although I do know one lady (Princess) who is an Uber Ghana driver and gives out nkate cake (a groundnut snack) to her riders. The majority of drivers I encountered knew how to use the GPS, except when there seemed to be a technical issue with the app or GPS. One driver even returned an umbrella I left in his car and Uber has a procedure for retrieving lost items. About half of the Accra drivers have followed what seems to be standard Uber procedure and what I encountered in Lagos, London and more recently, in Johannesburg:
- Call rider after accepting request
- Confirm location and ask for more specific directions if necessary
- Arrive within advertised wait time
- Welcome rider into car
- Prompt rider to input location in app if not already done
- Prompt rider to put on seat belt (only 5 or so drivers did this, can be improved)
- Inquire about AC level and radio station preference
- Ask rider if trip can be started
- Upon arrival at location, ask rider if trip can be ended
- Remind rider to rate ride
The driver rating system is a great tool – one star is terrible and five stars is excellent. I have given a rating of one (1) star to about five drivers, mainly because the entire ride was a mess and probably because the driver was very rude. About 15-20 drivers have received a five (5) from me and the majority receive three (3) or four (4) stars because there’s always room for improvement. In my books, a driver who does five of the above deserves at least three stars on the rating. If (s)he is courteous, friendly, and makes the effort to ensure my comfort, five stars it will be. That said, it’s really up to you. Bottomline, be fair.
Fellow riders, first of all, do away with any fancy ideas you might have (like I was forced to). Realise that your ride could be a hit or a miss, at least until there is a standardized system. Be firm but respectful when dealing with Uber drivers. Don’t take it personally or get into an argument with a driver if a ride goes sour. Exercise your real power – the rating and feedback system. It will not only give you some satisfaction, but you might actual get some of your money back. More importantly, being honest in your ratings will help sort the best from the rest and increase your chances of a great Uber experience.
Get A Discount On Your First Uber Ghana Ride
So there you have it, an overview of my experience and impressions of Uber Ghana so far. Yet to go on your first ride? Sign up, download the Uber app (iOS / Android), and use our code “CIRCUMSPECTE” to get a discount on your first ride. Let me know how it goes and look out for my subsequent posts which will feature tips for passengers and other useful insights.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.