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Ride-hailing Platform Asymmetries between Riders and Driver-partners in Lagos, Nigeria.

Platform companies, with the help of data, have the potential to formalise the processes of transport systems in global South cities, especially in African cities which are characterised with informal processes. For ride-hailing platforms, this will help improve safety and security for both drivers and riders and reduce the likelihood of workers who attempt to evade formal processes such as tax payments because information is accurately recorded and managed by algorithms. In our contemporary world today, data is important for several tech platforms including Uber, Airbnb and social media platforms. This process is known as datafication, which is defined as a significant feature of modern social life and society through “the drive to turn vast amounts of activity and human behaviour into data points that can be tracked, collected and analysed”1. However, there have been growing concerns about its impacts on society and user-groups at large – in this case, on platform workers/drivers in Lagos.

Registration on platforms like Uber and Bolt (Taxify) is asymmetrical for both workers and riders in Lagos. For workers, it is a stringent process which involves them providing critical details such as home address (which can be verified), vehicle details (plate numbers and vehicle numbers), licenses and at least two guarantors. For riders, registration on the platform is as simple as inputting a contact number, card details and home addresses (which cannot be verified). This has an implication on drivers’ safety, work ethic and motivation because they feel unequally treated. When data is not being equally represented on the platforms, it puts riders and platform companies in a greater position of power. Talking about drivers’ challenges, platform driver and Union president stated that:

Box 1 – Data misrepresentation
“To this present time we have 30 -35 of drivers been killed by riders because they don’t profile them well, many riders don’t use their correct names and don’t put correct information and they are collecting cars and killing people and that’s why we need government to regulate things, to open an account. Either you use BVN or use national ID or migrate their information with the road safety (use the driver’s license), so they are can know the perpetrator of these evil acts”2.

From observation, a rider can register with many accounts in search of trip discounts/bonuses or in rare instances when they may have been blocked by the platform. This makes it difficult to track riders who may have defaulted. It takes a 4.6/5 and 4.5/5-star rating for drivers to be blocked on Uber and Bolt respectively in Lagos, but until summer of 2019, there were no clear rating thresholds to discourage bad rider behaviours3. This has however not been observed in Lagos, especially on the Bolt platform, indicating a low barrier of entry and further perpetuating bad rider behaviours which demotivates drivers from working. Mr AY’s suggestion could be helpful in ensuring that riders are more accountable on platforms such that they are equally aware that bad behaviours cannot be tolerated.

The communication between platform companies and drivers in comparison to riders is also perceived as unfair to drivers, particularly during a conflict with a rider; algorithmic misinterpretation or network issue which can lead to an undercharged fare or overcharged fare especially on the Bolt platform (see figure 1); or drivers who are blocked without any clear explanation (see box 2). However, drivers highlighted that Uber is more organised and, in many cases, are more likely to reimburse drivers that may have been undercharged. This is hardly the case on the Bolt platform.

Figure 1: Undercharged fare for a Bolt trip
Source: Nigerian Platform drivers forum.
Box 2 – Poor driver relations and algorithmic misinterpretation
“…When I do fare review on Bolt, it takes them years to get back to me. Some riders will pay you that N500 (£1.1); some will tell you that it is promo and there is nothing you can do (for example see figure 1) …They have bad customer relations in our case. They would not check properly when there is a complaint from a rider but be so quick to block drivers. But in a reverse scenario, platforms respond quickly to riders” 4.
 
“The way they block drivers is something else, although some of our drivers are also funny too. But they should look at the history of the driver. Possibly, the driver might not be the issue, but you can call the driver and talk to the person…”. To summarise, While Uber does a good job sometimes in communicating and resolving issues, Mr Raz, went ahead to state how a rider reported him for being cheated for a trip which was originally N400 (£0.8), but the rider went to multiple destinations which was not accounted for. When he reported to Uber, only a fraction of his complaints was resolved 5.

These asymmetries can be resolved if algorithmic processes are closely supervised and communicated to drivers to ensure clarity. As Mr Raz advocates “… sometimes we need to interface more apart from texting on the app. The human angle should come in”. While it is a business that benefits massively from riders, drivers are equally important and should be treated fairly. The future of work hinges on the efficiency and transparency of platforms that might ensure that its processes are clear enough to create a fair working environment for its workers while meeting the needs of its customers.

References.

  1. Dencik, L., Jansen, F., Meltcafe, P. (2019). A conceptual framework for approaching social justice in an age of datafication.
  2. Fieldwork Interview with Platform Union President in Lagos Mr Ay, 2018
  3. Paul, K. (2019). Uber to ban riders with low ratings: will you pass the test? The Guardian. 1 June
  4. Fieldwork Interview with Platform Worker Mr Ed, 2019
  5. Fieldwork Interview with Platform Worker Mr Raz, 2018

Trust Issues and Ride-Hailing Platforms in Lagos, Nigeria.

The idea of building trust is often central to the adoption and use of technology platforms in general such that the processes and governance of these platforms ought to align with the realities of user-groups which are essential for a seamless service. Since 2013, the entry of ride-hailing platforms in Nigeria has increased because of an overall technology awareness in Lagos and continuous successes of existing ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Taxify (see Table 1). Ease of access, trip predictability and ease of fare calculations and payment, amongst other things have improved.

Despite its growing impact on urban transport in Nigeria, the industry has suffered several challenges such as insecurity and lack of safety for user-groups. Prior to ride-hailing platforms, the notion of trust has been integral for taxi businesses or technologies to thrive. For instance, a passenger who builds a bond with a local taxi driver such that the driver runs personal errands such as dropping off school kids.

Trust in simple terms is the belief in the ability of someone or something. There has been increasing interest in the concept of trust in online transactions since the development of the internet and e-commerce in the early 1990s (1). The concept of ‘trust’ encapsulates both offline environments and online environments such that the difference lies in the varying characteristics of these environments as well as the context in which trust is formed and maintained. In technology, “it is a belief that a specific technology has the attributes necessary to perform as expected in a given situation in which negative consequences are possible” (2).Risks and uncertainties are exacerbated because users lack total control of the processes governing ride-hailing apps.

Table 1: Ride-hailing companies in Lagos
Source: Author’s fieldwork

In the ride-hailing industry in Lagos, both drivers and passengers are aware of the risk in engaging with a complete stranger via an app which is monitored by platform companies through data analytics and algorithms. Unlike the conventional taxi industry, user-groups often build trust in platform companies based on the efficiency and reliability of their apps over time. For example, Mr Ayo, the Taxify driver has just accepted his first trip for the day, but later declines because the rider would only pay via an ‘online bank transfer’ and from experience, the driver does not trust this process because it is often a fraudulent tactic used by riders without money. Using a third-party banking app to make a transfer to the driver’s account gives the rider more power in this situation because the payment could be reversed in 24 hours if reported by the rider. If it were a card-paid trip, the driver would feel safer because the ride-hailing app acts as an intermediary between both parties such that if a conflict occurs, it can be resolved amicably.

One of the many instances where the rider loses trust is through trip manipulations by drivers.  Since Uber slashed the base fare of trips by 40% in Lagos, drivers have reacted with strategies for increasing the fare of trips through manipulative techniques (3). In 2017, Lockito, designed for testing geofencing-based apps, was being used in inflating fares by manipulating the distance of a trip.  For example, a trip that should be about 5.9km would be double the distance when the Lockito app is being used (see Figure 1).

Although drivers are responsible for altering the GPS function in the Uber app, riders become aware that the app is also vulnerable to fraudulent activities. Riders frequently monitor the Uber app, drivers’ behaviour and prefer cash payments to card payments to avoid being defrauded during trips. Although there are other factors involved such as low smartphone and card penetration overall (4), the psychological construct of trust remains central to the reliability and predictability of drivers, riders, and the algorithms behind ride-hailing apps.

Figure 1: Incorrect GPS reading vs correct GPS reading
Source: BrandSpurNG (2017)

Regardless of ride-hailing platforms’ success in Nigeria, trust issues surrounding usability and culture remain a stumbling block especially for indigenous start-ups like Oga-Taxi. More research would be needed to understand the implications on user behaviour and what coping strategies are needed to thrive in an increasingly ‘networked’ environment as well as how these strategies may create new realities in the global South.

References.

  1. Li, F., Pieńkowski, D., van Moorsel, A. & Smith, C. (2012). A Holistic Framework for Trust in Online Transactions. International Journal of Management Reviews, 14(1), pp. 85-103
  2. McKnight, D. G., Carter, M., Thatcher, J.B., & Clay, P.F. (2011). Trust in a specific technology: An investigation of its components and measures. ACM Transactions on Management Information Systems, 2(2), pp. 12 – 32.
  3. Adegoke, Y. (2017). Uber drivers in Lagos are using a fake GPS app to inflate rider fares, Quartz Africa, 13 Nov
  4. appsafrica (2015). Can Uber really work in Lagos, Nigeria? appsafrica, 2 Jun
  5. BrandSpurNG (2017). Uber Drivers In Lagos Using Fake GPS App To Inflate Fares – Report, Nairaland Forum, 14 Nov
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