• Kenya’s largest telecoms operator, Safaricom, on Tuesday unveiled an app, Little Cab, which has an exclusive service targeting female drivers in a bid to compete with Uber.

    ‘Lady Bug’- styled as an exclusive cab service for and driven by women has already signed up 40 female drivers to the service that was developed by a local software firm. Safaricom is owned by Britain's Vodafone (40%), and Nairobi-based software developer Craft Silicon, who will jointly run the services.

    The new cab app hopes to woo customers with their improved, cheaper and better services which will include free Wi-Fi for passengers. Drivers will also enjoy higher share revenues, officials said in a statement.

    Customers can also pick from the two categories: ‘comfort’ and ‘basic’. The latter offers a low-cost option for older cars while the former is a regular service. What’s more, users can opt for ‘Ride Later’ option that allows them to schedule their trips, Little Cab said.

    “We believe that Little Cab will provide better passenger experiences by connecting them with more reliable, cost-effective options,” said Safaricom Chief Executive, Bob Collymore. Additionally, each Little Cab taxi will be issued with a Lipa Na M-Pesa paybill, which will allow customers to pay fares with mobile money. Little Cab said that other payment options such as cash and cards will also be acceptable.

    How the ‘Lady Bug’ will work

    Borrowing from already existing women's only services like SafeHer, SheRides, and Chariot for Women- Lady Bug is set to address the safety and harassment of female passengers by some male operators.

    “A first in Kenya and Africa, Little Cab has introduced a lady-friendly category, ‘Lady Bug’, with professional lady drivers to ensure women’s safety on the road,” said Craft Silicon CEO, Kamal Budhabhatti.

    He added that the service will be open for requests to all customers from 6am until 6pm, thereafter, only ladies will be allowed to make a request.

    “Our partnership with Craft Silicon is a demonstration of benefits of businesses coming together to address challenges facing our customers. We believe that Little Cab will provide better passenger experiences by connecting them with more reliable, cost-effective options,” said Mr Collymore.

    Commenting on the new taxi service, the general manager of Uber Kenya, Nate Anderson told Reuters that “at the end of the day competition is good.”

    While innovations such as ‘Little Cab’ are good for consumers, it is not known how it will be accepted by local taxi operators who sometimes back went on a rampage claiming that Uber’s cheap pricing model, is bad for their business.

    In February, Kenya United Taxi Organization (KUTO) issued a seven-day ultimatum to the government demanding for an equal playground with the competitor, Uber- a San Francisco-based company- which not only offers cheaper prices but also the option of ‘calling out’ for a taxi via their mobile app.

    Maybe it is time the taxi operators joined local taxi-hailing app platforms such as Uber, Little Cab, Pewin, Taxify, among others to benefit from them rather than fighting them.

    Initially, Little Cab will only be available on Android and Windows phones, but will soon be made available on iOS platforms, the company officials said.

    Image credit: AFP Photo/Simon Maina