Commentaries | May 23,2020
January 9 , 2021
By Kidist Yidnekachew ( Kidist Yidnekachew has degrees in psychology and journalism and communications. She can be reached at email@example.com. )
Recently, a friend left his job, bought a car and registered to work for a taxi-hailing service provider. But the business was slow. Maybe the market was saturated. Or maybe people did not have the money to be driven around in a taxi cab because of the depressed economy. He did not know.
"A few years back, this would have been a successful business with fewer competitors,” he told me. “Those drivers who signed up first made a fortune, but now it's another story."
But he was determined to make money. Most of his friends, myself included, had a suspicion that he was living above his means, renting an apartment too spacious for a bachelor. He said that he also had debts to settle.
Thus, he began to drive at night, catering to people working evenings or partying late into the night. Most people belonged to the latter group. He worked all day, and then until 3am or 4am, sleeping for just about three hours.
A month later, he was unrecognisable. He had lost weight, gotten dark circles under his eyes for lack of adequate sleep and looked miserable. Family and friends were worried about him and managed to stage an intervention. Alas, before we were done, he received a call and had to head back to work. Every couple of hundred Birr counted for him.
It was not just the mental and physical exhaustion though. A few days after the intervention, he was robbed.
"The thieves didn't look like robbers. They were two men dressed nicely with nice hair,” he told me.
They had not used the app to get his service. They told him his destination, and as he was approaching it, they asked him to stop in a dark alley saying that they might have gotten the direction wrong. Exhausted and tired, he was not as alert as he needed to be.
The next thing he knows, a gun was pulled on him, and he was told to empty his pockets. He complied. Fortunately, another car approached, and they had to leave in a hurry. His phone, car and life were spared.
"You got lucky this time and should take this as a lesson. You have got to stop working at night, especially after midnight," the intervention continued.
His family was right. Most people have heard stories of drivers from taxi-hailing companies being harmed and even having their cars stolen. It is also the case that these drivers are seen to be encroaching in the livelihoods of the blue taxi cab services – sometimes they violently push against the taxi hailing drivers.
On several occasions, I have had drivers telling me to meet them across the street or further from where I am, because they are afraid they will be spotted by the blue taxi drivers, which usually huddle together.
It is fascinating how the tables have turned in just a short period. Just years back, it used to be passengers that were uneasy and suspicious of drivers as they could steal from them or even harm them. Of course, there are still drivers who work as taxi-hailing service drivers to rob passengers.
It is encouraging that the drivers have begun to push back. My driver friend and his colleagues from the taxi-hailing service came together to create a Telegram channel. They started tracking the whereabouts of their fellow drivers and communicating with them. If one of them took longer than expected, the others check on them. Also, after midnight, they only take calls from female customers.
These are not full-proof solutions, but they believe it would help. It shows that there is a price to everything, and we rarely notice as beneficiaries of that service.
As passengers, we often enter a taxi cab, perhaps chat with the driver a bit, and alight without so much as a thought. We like the convenience of a cab coming nearly wherever we are in the city and the lack of haggling for price. We overlook the real price that has to be paid by the strangers who take us where we want to be.
PUBLISHED ON Jan 09,2021 [ VOL 21 , NO 1080]
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