MOTORCYCLE TAXI COMPANIES TEST THE WEST AFRICA MARKET
By Paul Ndiho
Motorcycle taxi companies are expanding in West Africa, thanks to support from investors betting on the sudden rise of two-wheeled taxi firms in Asia. Can this success be replicated in some of the fastest-growing economies in Africa?
Motorbike taxi firms are now battling it out on the streets of Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos. As Nigeria’s oldest motorcycle taxi firm MAX.ng, is planning to expand across the country and launch in Ghana and Ivory Coast.
The company’s app-based platform organizes motorcycle taxi and delivery services for individuals and businesses. The firm has also recently been infused with $7 million dollars from investors.
Informal motorcycle taxis operate across Nigeria, where they are known as “Okada.” Two-wheeled ride-hailing firms are hoping to lure passengers seeking rides that are safe and fast.
New motorcycle transit companies hope to win a measurable market share by offering teams of trained drivers, safer equipment, and the convenience of booking rides through a mobile app. Some are looking to turn their ride-hailing apps into one-stop mobile shops offering a host of services from e-payments and deliveries to insurance.
“I see them like they are more executive; you feel more secure. I believe they should be trained before they are allowed to ride on Gokada, unlike common Okada on the road, you see some people that are already drunk, they are already high, so you can’t control them. I know if I have a complain I can always go to Gokada website and lodge my complaint there. Everybody wants faster movement in Lagos, we all know Lagos, but we are still afraid of the normal Okada.”
Rival ride-hailing companies typically have a mobile app, but also allow passengers to hail available drivers. Gokada launched in Lagos in January 2018. Founder Falim Saleh says, so far, the company has raised US$5 million in 2019 – and it plans to start rolling out new services, like repair centers and rider training schools across West Africa.
“The reality is that the infrastructure is not meant to handle so many cars and to do major infrastructural projects like trains will take a long time, and there are so many Okada that they are here to stay at least for a while, so why not make the best of it, right? Why not make sure they are riding safely, why not track them, why not give them proper permits and make the best of the situation instead of just ignoring what the reality is.”
MAX.ng also operates in several southern Nigerian cities. Okadas have come under so much criticism for unpredictable driving and accidents, that in 2012, Lagos banned motorcycles with a cylinder capacity below 200 cc’s from using major roads or the bridges that criss-cross the city built around a lagoon. Jude Okoro, left his job as a clerk over a year ago to become a Gokada driver.
“I was actually interested in their vision, the vision of saving people’s time, taking them to their destination safe and sound, and I wanted to be part of that vision and at the same time to actually increase my financial capabilities so that I can do more.”
MAX.ng plans to launch in three other west African cities – in Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria – by the end of 2019, according to co-founder Adetayo Bamiduro. MAX.ng’s target is to reach 2 million rides by mid-2020 – up from 200,000 trips in May 2019 – as a result of the West African expansion.
“Nigerians principally…mostly move around either on motorcycles or in mini-busses and these are two spaces that have not seen a lot of normalization and structure even as we speak, right. So if you combine all the organized and structured ride-hailing platforms and transport companies till date, there is still less than one percent of the total market.”
Africa offers enormous potential for motorcycle ride-hailing firms, for example in East Africa, where two-wheeled taxis known as “Boda boda” are already accessible. Car ride-hailing giant Uber, last year launched its two-wheeled Uber BODA service in Kampala and Nairobi, but the company says it does not have plans to launch a similar service in Nigeria.
The Ugandan company, SafeBoda, which was founded in 2015 and launched in Nairobi last year, says it’s in the process of launching in Nigeria. SafeBoda says it also plans to expand into at least 20 other African cities.
Both Gokada and MAX.ng said the average cost of a trip was around US$2. Most Nigerians live on less than that sum each day. But there are no signs of interest waning from firms planning to launch in the region.