Ex App Driver: ‘I Make More in Informal Rides and Payments in Petrol’

A former driver who worked with large app based minicab firms has set up his own company to specifically serve deprived areas of Sao Paulo which companies like Uber and Cabify may not serve.

Ubra was set up by Alvimar da Silva last year when he realised he was making more money giving informal rides to his neighbours in Brasilândia than working for the big ride-hailing firms.

The area has a reputation for violence and crime meaning many large taxi companies and ride hailing apps will not accept trips there due to safety concerns.

The nearest metro station is five miles away and locals rely on overcrowded and unreliable buses.

Ubra – a nod to Uber but also a portmanteau of ‘Union of Brasilândia’ is trying to change that by hiring local drivers, offering alternatives to smartphone booking using Whatsapp messages and accepting payments in cash or even petrol.

“There’s a myth about the periphery being dangerous,” Da Silva told The Guardian.  “I say violence is everywhere – probably even more so in the central area than in the periphery. Our modus operandi was hiring local drivers, born and resident in Brasilândia, who are not prejudiced against it and are not afraid to work here.”

The three big ride hailing apps Uber, Cabify and 99 all ‘flag’ trips which start or end in certain places to give their drivers the opportunity to reject the ride. Uber say this is an important safety feature for its drivers to “prevent trip calls from areas with public safety challenges” based on “real-time analysis of the data from the millions of trips performed daily through the app”.

99 says its app notifies drivers “when a trip starts, ends or passes through areas of the city that are considered risky”, leaving them to decide whether or not to accept it and Cabify doesn’t operate in certain areas, including Brasilândia.

Consequently Ubra is already undertaking 5,000 to 6,000 trips a month, the vast majority of them either starting or finishing in Brasilândia.

One resident said the service was “a blessing” and that it let residents “off the hook” from previous long walks from trips to the doctor or the shops. Previous waits at the bus stop for an irregular service or a taxi refusing to take them to their own door meant journeys because burdensome and long.

Ubra works like most ride hailing apps: an app is downloaded and a profile created then when a car is needed, the location and destination entered. Once a driver is located, the user gets the car model and licence plate, the driver’s name and the estimated time of arrival.

But for those unable to download an app they can also call a phone number or send a free WhatsApp message – bypassing the need for expensive technology and internet coverage. One feature which most companies certainly don’t do is allow passengers to pay for the cost of the ride in fuel.

“When drivers don’t have a credit card terminal and a passenger doesn’t have cash, one of the things we do is to ask the passenger if he would mind stopping at a gas station and paying the cost of the ride in gasoline,” says Da Silva.

Another benefit for the local community is the recruitment of drivers: they are being recruited from the very area they are there to serve – although the company hopes to expand across the city.

Our focus is in the areas that are being excluded [from the other apps], but we will eventually work in all São Paulo”, says Aline Landim, Da Silva’s daughter. “There is a large demand from the drivers themselves to work just around their neighbourhoods. They want to avoid traffic and gasoline expenses, while being close to their homes and families.”

And the market opportunity looks promising, with Da Silva saying they hope to increase passenger numbers from 2-3 per cent of the current neighbourhood of 300,000 to 15-20 per cent by developing their own app.

His business plan is simple: “The more they exclude, the more we will include.”

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