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Rideshare rivals inDrive and Uber tag tourism as driver of Jamaican business

A year after entering the local market, InDrive, a Siberian company by origin that operates a global service rivalling Uber, says ridesharing has been growing in Jamaica and it’s due to the depth of internet penetration, which encompasses nearly three-quarters of the population.

There is also significant tourist demand, said Business Development Director for inDrive Rides in Latin America, Alexander Akhmataev.

Those views are shared by its competitor, Uber, which entered Jamaica two years ago, a market whose population of more than 2.8 million is tracked closely by the number of stayover or stopover tourists, which last year was just shy of 2.5 million visitors.

Uber told the Financial Gleaner that within the first year of its market entry since June 2021, the rideshare service recorded more than 200,000 leases, which is a reference to the number drivers on its network.

“At the end of 2022, Jamaica ranked among the top five countries in Latin America with the highest Uber user ratings and placed second among Caribbean countries,” Uber added.

“As it relates to the tourism/visitors market, the top five nationalities that most requested a lease in Jamaica for 2022 were the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Panama and Mexico; and the most popular destinations were Liguanea Plaza, Sovereign Centre and AC Hotel Kingston,” the company said.

Jamaica’s private transport market is served by a network of licensed ‘route’ taxis that are confined to specific zones of operation and are allowed multiple passengers; but there is also the ‘for hire’ segment that’s populated by a number of fleet operators who deploy hired drivers, and it’s the area in which the two rideshare providers generally operate.

However, rideshare depends on independent vehicle owners who are contracted to the ride-hailing, or mobility, companies. The service is tech-based, with cab charters done via apps, and is therefore dependant on markets with robust internet coverage.

Akhmataev of inDrive Rides says internet usage was pivotal to the growth of rideshare service in Jamaica. That usage has been driven by the proliferation of smartphones in a country where mobile subscription outpaces the size of the population, due to a tendency by some to own more than one device.

“This Caribbean nation [Jamaica] has experienced a significant increase in internet usage since 2005, with the service now reaching almost 70 per cent of the population. The majority of users connect via their mobile phones, which has allowed for our ride-hailing business to thrive; consistently growing since the very first day we started operations.”

InDrive operates a “bid-based” platform wherein passengers can name their own fare for a ride, and nearby drivers can accept, decline or counter the offer.

While not disclosing its market share, Akhmataev said Jamaica was poised to experience demand growth for ride-hailing services.

The company, which began operating in Kingston in mid-2022, says hundreds of drivers have signed up to its network and embraced its fare-negotiation model “which, unlike conventional ride-hailing apps, allows drivers and passengers to determine their own fares, rather than complying with prices set by algorithms,” said Akhmataev.

The company recently expanded to Montego Bay, the resort capital of Jamaica.

Additionally, Akhmataev said that with access to new funding, inDrive plans to add new urban services such as inDrive Freight, focusing on cargo delivery for everyday people and small and medium-sized businesses.

Operational since 2013, InDrive operates in more than 650 cities in 48 countries. Its name at start-up was inDriver, but that was changed to inDrive last year amid expansion of the group. It has also changed its home base to Mountain View, California.

“inDrive was born as a social networking group which, in 2013, evolved into an app to reach hundreds of cities in dozens of countries around the world, achieving the unicorn status with an investment round of hundreds of millions of dollars in 2021,” said Akhmataev.

“The story of inDrive is unprecedented, since the company originated in a small, remote town in Siberia with some of the most extreme climatic conditions,” he said.

In February, the company raised US$150 million to invest in marketing and growth projects, including user acquisition and retention. Within the region, InDrive has launched a delivery management platform in Brazil – inDrive Delivery PRO – for businesses.

The company’s turnover is unknown, but Akhmataev said last year’s gross revenues grew 88 per cent, and that inDrive’s app saw a 45 per cent increase in annual downloads, climbing from 42.6 million in 2021 to 61.8 million in 2022.

“One of the main challenges faced by inDrive is to continue to expand our model. Also, enabling new digital top-up and payment alternatives will be key for our operations,” said Akhmataev.

inDrive’s valuation was said to top US$1.2 billion in 2021. Last year, the company launched several new services, and now “provides an expanding list of urban services, including intercity transportation, freight delivery, task assistance, courier delivery and employment search”, the company said of its decade-old operation. It now describes itself as a global mobility and urban services platform.

The inDrive app has been downloaded over 175 million times and was the second most downloaded mobility app in 2022. In addition to ride-hailing, inDrive provides an expanding list of urban services, including intercity transportation, freight delivery, task assistance, courier delivery and employment search.

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