Uber Is Testing Cash Payments and Image-Based Navigation in Africa

Ride-sharing giant makes changes as part of a service expansion on the continent.

Uber Africa
AP Images/Jeff Chiu

As part of a spread of services across Africa, Uber is developing new features such as an image-based navigation system and expanding other local features such as cash payment acceptance, the company announced today.

According to Alon Lits, general manager for Uber in sub-Saharan Africa, the cash payment system will be rolled out in South Africa as a supplement to electronic payments. Implementation of a similar system in Kenya led to a massive spike in Uber usage there, Lits said. He added that credit and debit cards have not reached the ubiquity in the region that they have in other parts of the world, and that some people in Africa still prefer cash to e-commerce due to concerns about fraud.

"It's very different to the U.S.," he told the Associated Press, "where you wouldn't think twice about making an online purchase."

Lits also said Uber is exploring new methods of navigation for drivers in cities that lack high-quality digital mapping data, such as the Ugandan capital city of Kampala.

"We've tested [programs] where, instead of street addresses, there are actually images of locations," he said. "So drivers can navigate aiming for the white gate and the green fence."

The ride-sharing company said it plans on kicking off operations in Accra, Ghana, Kampala, Uganda, and Dodoma, Tanzania in the next month. In the region, it currently operates in the Kenyan cities of Nairobi and Mombasa, the Nigerian cities of Lagos and Abuja, and the cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, and Durban in South Africa.

The news comes on the wake of a big week for Uber. In the last few days, the ride-sharing company revealed it has entered into a partnership with Toyota that provides the startup with cash and leasing deals for its driversit also showed off its prototype self-driving car for the first time. Then again, the company also found out one-third of Americans have never heard of it, so it hasn't been all sunshine and lollipops.

One final note: "Alon Lits" is an anagram for "Last Lion." We're not sure if there's a greater meaning to that, but if nothing else, it gives us an excuse to post this GIF: