Uber Expands in Africa as Users Seek Public Transit Substitutes

  • Number of Uber trips doubled every six months in South Africa
  • Service expanding to Ghana, Uganda and Tanzania by end of June

Uber Technologies Inc. plans to start operating in three new African countries by the end of June, extending its reach 2 1/2 years after introducing its ride-hailing service in the continent.

The company is set to expand to Ghana, Uganda and Tanzania, Alon Lits, the general manager of Uber Africa, said in an interview. Last week, Uber started in Mombasa in Kenya and Abuja in Nigeria, after entering South Africa in 2013.

Uber is gaining users in Africa as travelers and commuters seek alternatives to often unreliable or non-existent public transport, Lits said. Uber, whose rivals in the continent of more than a billion people include smaller providers such as Taxify and Zapacab, is also benefiting from customers embracing pooled rides, which allows them to reduce the bill per person.

“This is a smartphone-friendly continent and the lack of public-transport infrastructure means Uber is filling a gap in the market,” said Lits, 31, in an interview in a Johannesburg suburb. “The global executives are very happy with the growth of Uber in the African market.”

Uber began its African operations in the three South African cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. The service has doubled its passenger numbers roughly every six months, even amid unclear regulations and opposition from drivers of traditional metered taxis.

“In 2014, we had a million trips booked, during the first six months of 2015 two million trips were booked, and we have seen the trend continue,” Lits said.

Successful entry to new markets is crucial for Uber as it seeks to justify a valuation that topped $60 billion in a recent funding round. The San Francisco-based company is accelerating its race to expand globally, and it’s also branching beyond picking up and dropping off riders, testing services such as food and package delivery in some cities.

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