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Ban Uber now!

Uber is a global brand and a good example of how vision and innovation are critical to building successful brands. It is a transportation technology company which operates in 633 countries around the world. Ordinarily it should be a reference point for all the positive things about branding. But on September 22, Transport for London, TFL, announced that it would not renew Uber’s operating licence, citing concerns around user safety. The transport authority said it considered the company’s conduct and approach to “demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications”. However, I believe there are other issues involved. About 3.5million people use Uber in London with 40,000 licensed Uber drivers. This is huge and has already impacted negatively on London’s traditional black cabs. And that is where the real problem lies.

In February last year, 8,000 black cab drivers staged a protest in London. “Why has this American company come here and been given free rein” queried one of the protesting drivers. Another said “The taxi trade which has soul and tradition is being removed and that makes me really angry”. This is quite important. The black cab is an important part of London’s brand identity. It is obvious that continued operation of Uber will eventually eliminate the London Black Cab. Many conservative Londoners would not want to see this happen.

Unfortunately they may not be able to keep Uber away permanently. Besides, there are several other companies providing service similar to Uber’s. In order to keep London’s iconic black cabs, the taxi drivers must find a way to reposition and reinvent the way they operate. Otherwise, their days are numbered. And it will be very sad to see this iconic symbol of Destination London vanish form the city’s landscape.

Back home in Lagos, you might think am proposing the ban because of recent reports of robberies and kidnappings supposedly involving Uber drivers. Far from it. Robbers and kidnappers will always find ways to try and perpetrate their criminal activities. I am more worried about the implication of Uber’s growth in our country and what it portends for indigenous transporters. I am concerned that our traditional yellow cabs in Lagos will soon disappear forever. It bothers me because contrary to what many think, Uber may actually deepen unemployment, as it has become another foreign brand draining our pockets and putting our people at a huge disadvantage. These days, I see many of our Lagos yellow cabs parked idly and I shake my head in sympathy at another endangered species.

Transportation is a critical component of destination branding. There is a way the transportation system of a city helps give the city a unique identity. The London Underground, the Black Cabs and the double decker buses, are a vital part of London’s brand identity. When Naisr el Rufai was Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, he introduced the Abuja green cabs. This was a good initiative that gave some sort of identity to the FCT. Unfortunately it was not sustained and soon after, all the green cabs disappeared. For decades, Lagos has been identified with its yellow painted cabs. Long before now, the mini buses, popularly known as danfo were also painted yellow with two black stripes. While the mini buses have disappeared we have seen the introduction of the BRT system, which is better and also gives the state a unique brand identity element. What is happening in London is a spirited attempt to jealously protect the iconic identity elements of the city while also protecting jobs. We must do the same here.

For every Uber driver here, we are slavishly building a foreign brand. The concept of the transportation app has come to stay, and I am sure there are many Nigerian companies who can easily provide this platform. In Russia, Uber had to merge with a local rival called Yandex. I know we are always crying for foreign investors in this country. But we must do so with our eyes wide open. Instead of leaving our doors wide open for all comers, we must exercise great intelligence and discretion in the types of businesses we allow here. If the service can be provided by Nigerian companies, then it doesn’t make sense to expose such Nigerian companies to unfair foreign competition. It is even more foolish to encourage our people to continue working to build foreign brands.

The painted registered cabs are still the best option for destination branding and passenger safety. In other states of Nigeria, attempts have been made to align the city cabs with the state brand identity. For this reason, several states have designated colours for their cabs. I remember that in Akwa Ibom, the former governor launched the orange cabs, orange being one of the official colours of the state. But that also didn’t last for too long. They were soon replaced with tricycles. Very sad. We must develop our destination branding initiatives in a holistic manner such that state identity and employment generation are synergised. If we give this the necessary priority, there will be no place for Uber in our cities.

Muyiwa Kayode is CEO at USP Brand Management and author, The Seven Dimensions of Branding. Brand Nation is a platform for promoting national development based on the universal principles of branding.

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