The safety niche in the Kigali taxi-moto sector

Kigali has only one known female "moto" (motocycle) taxi driver, out of an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 operators in the city. The odds of the average city resident hitching her ride are staggering but she has been profiled by a number of local newspapers.

Kigali has only one known female "moto" (motocycle) taxi driver, out of an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 operators in the city.

The odds of the average city resident hitching her ride are staggering but she has been profiled by a number of local newspapers.

The fact is that taxi-moto drivers are overwhelmingly male – and youthful.

And the why and how of it makes for a fascinating tale of livelihood option and job creation that has not escaped the academic interest of economists and political scientists with a critical eye on the region and the phenomenon of motorcycle taxis.

This, however, is a story for another day.

Recently, a couple of investors launched a venture in the taxi-moto sector in Kigali, capitalizing on safety and convenience as a niche (see “ICT startup gets boost to develop safer taxi moto rides” http://www.newtimes.co.rw/section/article/2015-02-15/186003/).

Without mincing words, and as one can claim no one has a monopoly of ideas, the start-up aims to profit off the on-demand business model popularized by Uber.

First, about Uber, an urban transport – or “taxi-ish” – service company that has taken the world by storm, spawning imitators such as Lyft, Sidecar and Gett.

Though offering something similar to taxi services, Uber is not exactly a taxi service. UberX, as the service is labeled, capitalizes on what economists refer to as “slack resources” or “underutilized capacity.”

In plain terms, this means that if you have a car that is idle and you have the time, you can register with Uber and if someone near where you are needs taxi service you are alerted through the Global Positioning System (GPS) on a smart-phone app to pick them up.

As one writer has described it, “Uber is oddly egalitarian: It offers rides for the people, by the people.”

By registering to the service using a credit card as a potential client, no money changes hands. And it has proved quite lucrative. The same writer colourfully observes that Uber operates more like a pimp than a boss: Depending on the city, Uber gets approximately 20 percent; the driver pockets the rest.

The company started in San Francisco in 2010 and is now available in over 270 cities across 56 countries and six continents, six of which are based in Africa.

It recently launched in Nairobi, the sixth city in the Uber Africa network, launching after Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Lagos and Cairo.

The service has been life changing, somewhat like the taxi-moto. As one observer has noted, speaking of visitors from Europe or the United States after they return home, they often endure a frustrating transition period.

The visitors are incredulous that they can no longer simply step out of the house, find a “moto” – a personalised ride – in seconds and reach their destination in minutes as happens in Kigali.

UberX is something similar, according to another knowledgeable observer: “It’s almost like you’re inventing a new way of organizing your day because you can get a car in three minutes. You can define a new lifestyle for yourself.”

If that is the case the ubiquity of the taxi-moto is that it is right outside your door-step when you need it, what value will the two Kigali investors be adding by subscribing to their service?

If nothing else, it should be hoped the investors will be offering safety as added value, if not convenience.

“Motos” happen to register some of the highest number of accidents, sometimes fatal and often maiming, even in other cities such as Kampala, where a similar “safety” service (see www.safeboda.com) is being offered via a smart phone app.

The startup services say their drivers are well trained, though, to come back to the one female driver in Kigali, I should hope they have included women among their trained drivers, or aim to upscale with them.

Of Uber’s over160,000 active drivers in the US, fourteen percent are women. And just this week, the company announced a partnership with UN Women to have 1 million women drivers by 2020, among, if you do your math, the several million who will be men. 

The writer is commentator on local and regional issues

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