By Richard Mann, Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – When Alvimar da Silva realized Uber did not reach some of the more dangerous, far-flung areas of São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, he saw an opportunity: If the popular ride-sharing service did not go there, he would.

São Paulo is the city with the highest number of Uber users in the world.
São Paulo is the city with the highest number of Uber users in the world.

After six months of driving for the US application in the gridlocked city, da Silva launched in 2017 his own rival service JaUbra in the sprawling northern district of Brasilândia.

Since then, around fifty drivers have registered and da Silva hopes to expand to other no-go areas of the metropolis of 12 million which boasts the highest number of Uber users in the world.

Uber and other ride-sharing apps “started to veto the neighborhoods considered risky and difficult to access. But as we are already here, we don’t have any trouble,” says da Silva as he drives down the street where he was born fifty years ago, tooting his horn to greet residents.

Few outsiders dare to enter parts of Brasilândia where many of its 265,000 inhabitants live in favelas made up of precarious multi-story constructions squeezed into a labyrinth of streets covering the hills nine miles from the center of São Paulo.

Rampant crime and poor internet access mean many Uber drivers do not accept journeys to the district.

And for those living in Brasilândia, the app is impossible to access from various points, as AFP confirmed during a recent visit.

Life-Changing

As soon as word got out that JaUbra entered the neighborhoods of winding streets without numbers, da Silva noticed that the majority of his clients were residents who called him to take them to the doctor, the fresh food market, or to bailes funk (Brazilian funk parties) over the weekend.

As the business grew, da Silva started to bring in other drivers in the area to help meet demand.

“There are places here that are difficult for public transport to access and that has made us the only option for many people who were missing doctor appointments,” says da Silva’s daughter, Aline Landim, who gave up a bank job to dedicate herself full-time to JaUbra.

JaUbra goes in places Uber and other competitors won't
JaUbra goes in places Uber and other competitors won’t

Seeing the startup’s potential, Landim invested the payout she got from her former employer into JaUbra, which her father was running out of a garage while recording bookings on pieces of paper.

Now they have their own app and are on the verge of migrating to a more sophisticated platform which 500 drivers have already expressed interest in joining.

“People think that to start out you have to have a lot of money, but we started with nothing,” says Landim, 29, sitting in JaUbra’s new location, a modest office they rented with the R$ 32,000 (US$ 8,300) they received from the local government and an additional R$ 20,000 they got from an investor.

“We only had a computer, a telephone, the idea, the creativity, and the physical space loaned by a friend,” she says. Despite making three thousand trips a month and taking 15 percent commission on each journey, JaUbra’s earnings are just enough to keep the family-run business afloat, says Landim, whose brother is also involved.

Nobody Hassles You

Running a transport app on the outskirts of a city where high crime and inequality go hand in hand is not easy. Life expectancy can be as low as 23 years old in certain neighborhoods, according to a recent study. And Vila Brasilândia was ranked São Paulo’s third most violent district.

Yet JaUbra has not recorded a single assault in the past year. “Since I joined the app, I haven’t even suffered a scratch,” says Nelson Cobertino, who started driving for JaUbra last year.

“When people see the (JaUbra) sticker they know we’re from the neighborhood, so nobody hassles you because they know you are meeting a need and they respect that,” says Cobertino, who used to drive for Uber and work in a bank.

Uber admits to blocking requests from certain areas at specific times of the day for security reasons. Recently, they announced plans for a pilot program in Heliópolis, a favela in the South zone of São Paulo, with designated pickup spots to increase its presence in the city’s neglected outskirts.

The US app also offers tailored service in Brazil for customers with old smartphones and slow internet connections as well as for those who prefer to share their trip to save money.But da Silva is not scared by the competition.

“At the beginning, everyone thought that we wouldn’t do it, that we would have to stop,” he says. “But two years later, we’re still here. I’m going to leave my family a legacy.”

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