Tough times for yellow taxi as tech driven platforms rule Lagos transport
The business model of local transport is under threat, especially in Lagos, as technology-driven transport services are gradually gaining grounds. The business that was hitherto populated by the yellow taxi drivers, popularly known as Oko Ashawo, is giving way to technology-driven transportation models such as Uber, Taxify, Gokada and Max Okada. They are simply redefining transportation in Lagos, while most yellow cabs have limited themselves to carrying goods. Transportation technology is in the midst of a revolution. New technologies are improving the efficiency of existing transportation methods, while new inventions are poised to entirely reshape the way we move.
Having developed into a more commercial oriented city like New York, London and other big cities of the world, traffic congestion becomes a basic feature of Lagos, most times at a cost. It’s a normal occurrence to see corporate workers leave home as early as 5.00am to the Island for a work that starts at 8.00am. The three hours in-between are usually wasted in traffic. Going home, especially on Fridays, becomes even more difficult; traffic is usually bumper-to-bumper.
The introduction of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) brought a temporal relief to Lagosians, as the dedicated lanes, which for now is limited to the Ikorodu Road, gave the BRT buses unhindered access on the road. Notwistanding, Even at this, commuting in Lagos remained a challenge.
Aside from traffic situation, the condition of some of the commercial vehicles in Lagos was also a major problem. While most of the taxis were unkempt, the rickety nature of most of the commercial buses made it impossible for commuters to make do with them and still look fab. Of course, you don’t wear white in a typical Lagos danfo.
All these challenges paved way for the emergence of technology driven platforms such as Uber and Taxify to harness the opportunities to make money by connecting passengers and drivers with ease. Unlike the yellow cabs, these platforms give commuters the opportunity to request for a ride through an app, with a pick from their preferred locations. Most importantly, it’s pay as you go. So, in a city like Lagos, where the yellow cab is a ‘no, no’ in most housing estates, Uber and Taxify was a huge relief.
Again, relative cost effectiveness of using these apps made them the top choice for companies and workers commuting the city. Security and prestige added by the kind of vehicle engaged by these companies increased their acceptance. So, don’t be deceived by those elegant ladies in private chauffeur driven cars; it’s either Uber or Taxify.
Uber Nigeria, for instance, currently has about 9,000 active driver-partners and no fewer than 267,000 monthly riders. The company’s Head of Communications in West Africa, Francesca Uriri, who made the disclosure, said that the drivers and riders were based in Abuja and Lagos, where Uber currently operates.“Uber has taken steps to protect its sensitive external data repositories. In Nigeria Uber is currently available in Lagos and Abuja and is focused on enabling driver-partners by providing business and economic opportunities. The steadily growing number of Uber driver-partners in Nigeria is a testament to the appeal of the Uber business model.
That is because it creates real opportunities for local entrepreneurs to create and enjoy flexibility and enhance earning potential,” she said. When Uber commenced operations in Lagos four years ago, it was the fourth city in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the services were already present in over 140 cities in 40 countries before Lagos. Today, it’s available in 13 cities in Sub-Saharan Africa, and is available globally in over 600 cities in over 75 countries spanning six continents.
But while on-demand ride services are a hit with riders, there are serious legal and ethical questions that are causing governments to re-evaluate authorization for the operators to work in their jurisdictions. The primary concern is that the drivers are considered contract earners and not employees, thereby leaving them with the burden of income tax but few benefits. On the other hand, safer roads and greater flexibility are attractive for riders.
Meanwhile, the decision by the Lagos State Government to restrict commercial motorcyclist popularly known as okada, was another opportunity for some smart thinking entrepreneurs to take advantage and establish another mode of transport – commercial motorcycle, which offers temporary solace to the malice of traffic in the city. Gokada is an on-demand motorbike hailing service focused on changing the face of transportation in Nigeria by leveraging technology to connect users to the nearest motorbikes within their area thereby helping them move smartly and beat traffic.
Gokada uses smart 200 cc motorbikes that are allowed to move on major roads in Lagos, unlike the conventional 100 cc motorbikes driven by the regular okada riders. Gokada drivers are cautious, verified, experienced, and well trained. They all pass through the Gokada Driver Training School and are re-taught how to properly drive around the streets of Lagos, safely, with a passenger.
The company plans to have over 5,000 motorcycles in Lagos within the next few months to set off a new wave of ride-hailing prosperity in Nigeria and subsequently Africa. From operating within the Yaba Mainland axis, it has expanded to other parts of the city, including the Victoria Island – Lekki axis.There’s also Max Okada, which offers a safe way to move around Lagos. You can conveniently hail a motorcycle ride with the tap of a button and have a Champion (rider) pick and drop you or your packages off at your destination.
A mobility and technology startup based in Lagos, Metro Africa Xpress (MAX) founded by two MIT Alumni, Adetayo Bamiduro and Chinedu Azodoh in 2015 through one of its services, MAX Okada is playing a role in changing the narrative by helping Lagosians book at least 200cc motorcycle rides from their mobile phones. Just like car-hailing apps such as Uber and Taxify, users of the app are billed per kilometer and when a request is placed, the details of the rider and his motorcycle will be sent to the user’s device. Using technology as a means of social impact, Max Okada has created jobs for motorcycle riders and improved their livelihood.
Known as Champions, the riders are the first customers of MAX. unlike the regular motorcyclists, Champions, who are usually on hire purchase, are usually trained professionally to transport passengers safely, obey all traffic rules and put in their best at all times even outside work. They own the motorcycle after 10 – 12 months. Each Champion is given a mobile phone, jacket, hairnets, and helmets, as well as medical insurance. The impact Max Okada has made on each champion is immense. The Champions can now fend for themselves and their families, pay bills and be assured at the end of each day that they have a steady means of earning a living. According to Michael Ehiguina, a Max Champion, before he became a champion, he did not know that he could make as much money as he is currently earning. He further stated that as a result of being a Max Champion, he has a motorcycle of his own and moved from a single room apartment to a three bedroom flat.
All these raise a question about the possible extinction of local transport business in Lagos. Already, a mini survey conducted in Lagos showed most educated commuters in Lagos would not use any form of local transport in the next three years, pointing at the poor conditions of some of these vehicles.The power of technology and collaboration is vital in building the transport systems of the future. Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has reinforced this sentiment in his plans to restructure the activities of commercial yellow buses on Lagos roads. This landmark decision reveals an intention to reduce congestion and pollution, as well as pave the way for an efficient mass transportation system that would make it easier to move around a technologically savvy, smart city.
As the African Development Bank notes, the average commuter in Lagos now spends over three hours in traffic every day. While a new system would require significant time and investment to implement, the technology required to power the Lagos transport of the future already exists today. With GPS systems and constant communication, technology can make it safer for both the driver and the passenger.
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