Global technology company Uber commenced operations in Ghana in June 2016, to the delight of many prospective Uber Ghana riders and technology enthusiasts. As with most things in life, there’s a science to how things should be done, and then there’s the art to actually getting things done. Using Uber is no exception. It should be as simple as signing up, downloading the app, requesting and using Uber, but in actuality, it’s a bit of a bumpy ride.
Hundreds of rides since Uber became available in Ghana, I have amassed a bag of tricks that have helped smoothen my Uber experience, or at the very minimum, maintain realistic expectations about using Uber in Ghana. I have also had countless discussions with other riders to learn how they get around town with Uber. Here are some things to keep in mind when requesting and using Uber in Ghana.
Is your neighborhood Uber compatible?
Uber is currently available in Kumasi and the Greater Accra region (mainly Accra and Tema). You may think that using Uber should be as simple as a, b and c, but it’s not. It may take one, two or five tries before you actually find an available ride, much more a driver who is willing to pick you up. Generally speaking, it depends on where you’re based in the capital. Riders in Accra and Kumasi’s business districts, areas with good internet coverage, and “expatriate” neighbourhoods like East Legon, Labone, Airport Residential and Osu have a higher chance of finding available cars than those on the outskirts in places like Weija and McCarthy Hills. The University of Ghana campus also has a considerable number of cars for obvious reason: a higher concentration of young people who are technologically savvy. What does this mean? Be strategic about where you request an Uber. It wouldn’t be a good idea to hedge your getting to work on time on an Uber if you’re in Madina. You’ll probably spend the entire time staring at the “No cars available” notice. That said, if you have tried multiple times to get your first Uber ride and failed, don’t give up. It may not work in neighborhood X, but you might just be lucky if you try again in neighborhood Y. As we Ghanaians like to say, have faith. The good news is that there are alternatives like Bolt (Taxify) and Yango in Accra and Kumasi.
Prioritise your safety & share your trip for tracking
Unfortunately, not every person using Uber has good intentions. As a rider, it is important to remain vigilant and prioritise your safety. Firstly, make sure the vehicle number plate matches what is on your app. Also confirm the driver’s name and face before getting into the vehicle. Driver driving too fast or carelessly? Speak up and ask them to slow down. Don’t take an Uber ride with people you don’t know, or allow the driver to pick up a random passenger along the route. If you can, provide directions to the driver – they are required to follow your route of choice. Don’t know the area? Use Google Maps to track and ensure that your trip is being tracked by a friend or someone you trust by sharing your trip and estimated time of arrival. If you’re sitting in a car with tinted glasses, you may want to keep them rolled halfway just in case you need help. That said, be wary of rolling windows all the way down, especially if you are using your phone in traffic. Keep your belongings closely as well and double check the seat in case you’ve dropped anything. If you end up in an accident, ask the driver to cancel so you can request another car, and make sure you report the accident through the app. If at any point you feel unsafe, ask the driver to drop you off at the closest public place and end the trip. Make sure you report all safety incidents to Uber through the app, by following these steps:
My Trips > Select trip > scroll to Help > select I had a safety-related issue > give details
Request your Uber ride 15-30 minutes before setting off
If you know anything about Ghana, you’ll probably know that GMT actually means Ghana Man Time. Timing is everything when it comes to Uber. My rule of thumb is to request an Uber at least 15 minutes before I’d like to set off. This means I start checking the app for available rides about 30 minutes in advance. Why? To factor in Ghana man time of course. The fact that Uber tells you a driver is 6 minutes away doesn’t mean said driver will get to you in 6 minutes. If your departure point is not mapped on Google or near any landmarks, you can bet it will take at least 10 minutes for him to find you. That’s not including the time you will spend on the phone giving directions even though you indicated your location on the GPS. You can now schedule your Uber pickup in Ghana, but leave enough time for “Ghanaianness”, traffic and other eventualities. Also, keep in mind that Uber activates waiting charges if your Uber driver arrives and waits for you for more than 5 minutes.
Surge or higher pricing
In Ghana for the Year of Return? Make sure to compare prices across ride sharing apps as price surges tend to happen during December. Trying to get around town early in the morning, at lunch time or after closing? Chances are, you will be one of many disappointed Uber riders whose requests will go unfulfilled. If you’re lucky to have drivers in your vicinity, make sure you double check whether there’s surge pricing (term used on old app) or if Uber is popular (term used in new app). Also pay attention to this if you’re joining rush hour traffic. You’ll be happy you did – fares increase by as much as thrice the normal price when demand is high, in which case it makes more financial sense to take a regular taxi. As shown below, the Uber app should notify you of higher rates and give you an estimate (if you input your destination) before you request your ride. Personally, I opt for regular taxis over an Uber surge, unless I am that pressed for time, can’t find public transport and the surge is under two times the normal cost.
Choosing your payment method for Uber
Paying for your Uber ride is pretty straight forward since there is no negotiating price and the app has in-built e-commerce features. But to avoid confusion here is what you need to know. In Ghana you can pay for your ride either by cash or by credit or debit card (Paypal is an option in Johannesburg and other cities). I tend to go for the card option as it’s more convenient, especially if I’m running late to a meeting. That said it is important to note that most Uber drivers do not like card payments – some may even cancel your ride request when they realise you intend to pay with a card. Say you have a credit card linked to your Uber account, but decide to pay for a ride in cash since you may not have enough funds in your bank account. You can select or change your payment option anytime before your trip ends. In order not to forget, I typically change or choose the appropriate payment method before requesting the ride, especially if I don’t have cash. Overall Uber drivers don’t mind stopping at an ATM when necessary – remember, cash over card.
First time using Uber in Ghana? Get a discount.
Couldn’t take advantage of the free rides during Uber’s launch in June? Not to worry, you can still get your first ride free or at a discount (up to 5GHS) by using our code “CIRCUMSPECTE” . The trick here is to enter your promotional code before requesting your first ride. Simply enter the code on the “Payment” section of the app and it will automatically be applied to your ride. You should also see the deduction on the receipt Uber sends you after your ride. In the interest of full disclosure, I also get a 5GHS discount on my next ride if you use my code. We both win.
Communicating with your Uber driver
As I mentioned in my general review of Uber in Ghana, drivers are supposed to call riders a few minutes after a ride request has been placed. However, here in Ghana, there’s a one in two chance that a driver will actually follow through on this. Depending on how urgently I need my ride, I may or may not call my driver first, usually within a 2-5 minute window. If you’ve been waiting for more than 5 minutes, I recommend calling the driver. They could be out of phone credit (yes, this has happened to me about 5 times). All you have to do is look for “contact” near the driver’s name and details and the call will be placed.
If you are requesting an Uber in a country that isn’t your home country, chances are your driver has tried calling you but is being routed to your number in your home country. You may have the option of indicating a different number they can reach you at, but it’s probably best to have a local SIM just in case. In the interest of security – and to prevent interactions on the side, I suppose – Uber tends to mask phone numbers of both the driver and rider. Make sure you call the driver using the app each time you communicate; they will have your actual number if you use the calling feature on your phone itself.
Directions & pickup: Using landmarks and main roads
Once you have successfully put in your request and have your driver on the phone, you may want to confirm a number of things: whether they know your neighbourhood well, if their GPS is working, how long it will take them to pick you up, and what colour their vehicle is (yes, even if the app shows vehicle colour). Again, the Uber app only gives estimates where timing and location are concerned. Many Uber drivers are still learning how to use Google Maps or a GPS for the first time, so it won’t hurt to give directions and indicate landmarks, especially if you know a faster route. In an Uber compatible neighbourhood but having a hard time getting picked up? You may want to consider meeting your Uber driver at the main road or another easily recognisable place, especially if your point of departure is on a side street or address not indicated on Google maps. From my experience, giving directions to Uber drivers over the phone takes more time than simply walking to the main road for pickup. Do it for sanity’s sake.
Canceling an Uber ride
Now let’s assume you missed the notice on surge pricing and only realised after you’d put in your request that your usual 5GHS ride is going to cost you 25GHS. Don’t panic. You can cancel an Uber ride up to 5 minutes after you request. After this period, you will be charged a cancellation fee. There is usually a question about why you decided to cancel the ride request; I just go with the “I wasn’t ready” response. If your ride is canceled outside the 5 minute window, you will get charged 5GHS and get a receipt accordingly.
Drivers canceling Uber rides
Many of the complaints about using Uber in Accra are about drivers canceling rides after they have accepted a request. Both riders and driver have the option of canceling rides in under 5 minutes at no charge. That said, it can be annoying, especially if you have spent 15-20 minutes on the phone or waiting for them. From what I understand, Uber drivers aren’t supposed to be discriminatory about which rides they accept (unless of course they already have a passenger). But this is Ghana and some neighbourhoods appear to be more enticing to drivers than others.
Uber drivers are generally more willing to accept your ride regardless of where you are going – unless it is out of their way; they think there might be traffic; or they are unlikely to find another rider at the destination. Within the first year of Uber’s launch, I wouldn’t put in my destination on the app. Instead, I would tell the driver where I am going when he (or I) call, that way he could tell me immediately if he can fulfil the ride request or not. It saves time and keeps my blood pressure at the right level. The downside to this is not seeing the fare estimate, but unless it’s during surge pricing, it is usually cheaper than a regular taxi. Now let’s assume you couldn’t communicate with your driver – network issues – and he canceled the ride. Or you called him and he never picked up and then canceled the ride. You have the option of disputing the charge. Simply go to “Your trips” on the app, then select the appropriate issue under the “Help” tab. And yes, in some instances you may get a refund for a wrong charge.
Reviewing your fare and/or getting a refund from Uber
In some cases, you may end up getting a fare which is way different than the estimate. This could be for a variety of reasons – the driver’s choice of route, app or GPS issues, higher than usual traffic and so on. Depending on the situation, you may be eligible for a refund on some or all of the fare paid. To find out, use the Uber app to submit a report and use these steps:
My Trips > Select trip > scroll to Help > select Review my fare or fees > select issue
You fill a short form with details about what transpired and Uber may either ask for more information, explain why the fare is within range, or refund the amount as credit towards your next trip. From my experience, you are more likely to be refunded for a situation where the driver may have influenced the duration or cost of your trip (poor route choice) or where personal safety is at stake – especially if the driver didn’t follow your directions. This is important to know when dealing with a situation where your safety may be at stake or if the driver is being aggressive. Do not argue over the price. Pay the fare if you need to – and then report the situation to Uber, requesting for a refund.
That said, it’s really important not to abuse this option. Only request for a refund where you are actually due a refund. In the same vein, if the fare ends up being lower than normal for a given route and you don’t have any discounts applied to the trip, please be fair and considerate enough to notify Uber so they can make adjustments. I usually pay the driver what the fare should be and then let Uber know the app had an issue with calculating fare.
Uber X vs. Uber Black
If you’ve used Uber in cities like Lagos or South Africa you probably know there are two types of Uber vehicles: Uber X (standard, what is currently available in Ghana) and Uber Black (premium, not yet available in Ghana). If you can afford the finer things in Uber world – or just want a premium experience – skip this tip. Like me and looking to save as much as you can on transport? Read on.
If you’ve been using Uber X in Ghana and are traveling to other cities around the world make sure you’re actually requesting Uber X and not Uber Black, the latter is more expensive because the cars in this bracket tend to be luxury cars.The Uber app might automatically show Uber Black cars in the vicinity (it’s business, you know), but you can adjust the slider to select Uber X before requesting your ride. Again, you have 5 minutes to cancel your request if you accidentally choose the more expensive option.
There you have it – 12 tips to help improve your Uber experience in Ghana. Tried any of the above or have other tips? Share below.
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.