Johannesburg - Ride-hailing app Taxify is going to more than double its South African permanent staff as it moves to challenge Uber with new products and new locations for its services.
This week, it launched a local premium service that will aim to rival a similar offering by Uber.
Taxify South African operations manager Linda Mahloko said during an interview that the launch of the premium product, which has Uber Black as its key competitor, would be followed by a van service.
In South Africa, the company employs 70 permanent staff, up from just two in June 2016. This is set to rise rapidly, to 150 people.
Most of the extra staff will be there to provide greater driver and rider support, Mahloko said.
Taxify launched in South Africa in April 2016, after a failed first attempt in 2015.
The key selling point for drivers to join Taxify is that the company takes a lower commission. Uber takes 25% while, when Taxify started in the country, it began with a 5% commission. It has since increased this to 15%.
East London, Bloemfontein and Polokwane are on the radar. The launch of the service in East London is at an advanced stage and could take place in early 2018.
Regarding new locations, Taxify set up shop in Port Elizabeth for the first time in November, adding to its presence in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.
It wants to grow its presence to Stellenbosch, Richards Bay and Pietermaritzburg.
“Port Elizabeth and Durban need a lot of work, they are hostile markets. Durban is very hostile – there are some influential families in transport there. There are influential metered taxi bodies there too. We had to do a lot of fighting and negotiation to get a place to do business there. They have come to the Durban office and shut it down. They have caused riots outside the Taxify office. They threatened our employees.”
In Port Elizabeth, Uber is “strongly grounded” and drivers are cautious about trying something new, Mahloko said.
Turning to the rest of Africa, he said Taxify is planning to launch in three Africa cities in the next two months: Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Cairo in Egypt and Casablanca in Morocco.
“We are registering drivers in these cities as we speak,” he said. The company launched in Kampala, Uganda; and Accra, Ghana, in October.
In June 2016, when he joined the company, Mahloko said Taxify was doing about 100 rides a week in South Africa. By the end of that June, Taxify was doing 5 000 a week. Right now, Taxify is doing more than 250 000 rides a week in Johannesburg. It is the service’s biggest city.
South Africa is Taxify’s largest region by rides followed by Nigeria, Kenya and France.
Taxify was started in Estonia in August 2013. In Nigeria and Eastern Europe it is bigger than Uber, according to Mahloko.
An Uber spokesperson in South Africa declined to comment about the company’s position relative to Taxify in Nigeria and Eastern Europe.
It has a presence in 29 cities in 22 countries.
At present there are no plans to shift to compete with UberEats, which does food deliveries.
Mahloko said the training that local Taxify drivers get is centred around the app and how to deal with different types of riders.
Taxify drivers need to have had a driving licence for at least three years. They then go through a government background check before they get a professional driver permit. Finally, Taxify puts the drivers through a background check of its own.
“Once you clear the background check and you have done your training, we give you a username and password, take an ID photo and you are good to go. Everything can happen in a three-day period.”
To entice drivers to join, Taxify has been offering them bonuses. To attract riders it has being offering trips at a 40% discount.
Like Uber, Taxify drivers have been attacked and intimidated.
Mahloko said more than half their drivers work for Uber as well.
Who is Linda Mahloko?
He is 27 years old and grew up in Gauteng – first in Vosloorus, on the East Rand, in Gauteng.
Most of his childhood he spent in Randburg, Johannesburg. He spent four years in Swaziland before finishing school at Hyde Park High School.
He completed a business science, finance and accounting degree at the University of Cape Town.
After graduating, he worked as an investment banker for Citibank. This was followed by a stint as a McKinsey management consultant. He then joined Uber. He left and then joined Taxify in June 2016.SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE UPDATE: Get Fin24's top morning business news and opinions in your inbox.