Cab drivers under the Yango taxi hailing app have protested against what they say is “slave” income due to fares that are too cheap. Are their complaints reasonable or is it the usual case of lazy Zambians wanting to reap without sowing much? The cab drivers are unfortunately presenting a very distorted one-sided story that completely ignores important facts that undermine their complaints.

For one thing, the coming of taxi hailing apps like Yango, Zamcab and Ulendo has greatly increased the quantum of business in their industry from what was there before. If you go to the “normal” taxis on the streets, you will typically be quoted K100 for a short distance of around 5km. App based cab fares will typically be a quarter of this. This means for a group of 3 or more people, you are actually better off just using Yango than a minibus.

Plenty of working class people who live in the same areas can bunch up and get a better ride at the cost of a minibus fare. You can also send children to school and back using the same system. Moreover, the laws of Economics say that any reduction in the prices of goods or services leads to greater demand as more people can afford it. Yango has created many more customers for these drivers and they can do many more trips per day compared to the past when they would be parked waiting for customers. As usually happens, the increase in business volumes has caused the margins to drop due to competition and price wars.

Secondly, Yango saves drivers the need to either be burning fuel driving around looking for customers, or being parked in a queue at a place where people normally get cabs from. In the latter case, there is an opportunity cost to being idle which translates into loss of real money. With the Yango app, a driver can live in Woodlands, turn on the app and wait for orders within their area which they service by driving straight out of their home. Wherever they drop the client, they have the option of remaining briefly in the area and service an order from there and so on until the day ends. The efficiencies introduced by this system are incredible. Cabbies previously would need to drive back to “base camp” which wastes fuel, time and money.

Thirdly, taxi apps are safer than a random person flagging you down who could possibly be an evil person. We have read the stories of taxi drivers getting robbed, killed or cheated out of their cab fares. Anyone on Yango has to install the app and register themselves with their phone number, and this makes it less likely that they will commit a crime.

In light of all these advantages, it is curious to see cabbies complaining and even wasting time protesting. They further make very dubious claims that the reward system on Yango has been removed. Even if it is true, Yango, like any other business is free to change the conditions for taxi drivers as market conditions evolve. This looks like a case of people who want “double tobela”, big returns with little effort and this is unfortunately the common thinking in Zambia. There is no easy money in life.

As the owners of Yango have already made clear, if you don’t like Yango, take a walk. Whether the drivers “have no choice” or not is besides the point. Even a “bad” choice is still a choice in a free country. There at least 3 other competing taxi apps where you can get a better deal. If those other apps are not as popular as Yango, precisely because they are more expensive, why should Yango be pushed by protests to change their currently successful business model that enabled them to decimate Ulendo?