Uganda’s ‘mo­tor­cy­cle Uber’ shows it pays to be safe

The China Post - - BUSINESS - BY AMY FAL­LON

When Sil­ver Tumwe­si­gye, a sharply- dressed Ugan­dan mo­tor­bike taxi driver known by his nick­name “Sil­ver­stone,” had an ac­ci­dent six years ago it was a dou­ble blow.

First he had to pay for surgery for his head in­jury and weeks of hos­pi­tal treat­ment, then he suf­fered months of no in­come as he re­cov­ered at home.

Mo­tor­bike taxis, known as “boda-bo­das” in Uganda and else­where in East Africa, are an af­ford­able and ef­fec­tive — but dan­ger­ous — way of cut­ting through the traf­fic clog­ging Kampala’s streets.

Now a startup, dubbed “Uber for mo­tor­cy­cle taxis” af­ter the pop­u­lar ride- shar­ing com­pany, hopes to make them safer and more re­li­able.

Sil­ver­stone sur­vived his ac­ci­dent but the loss of his daily in­come of around 20,000 shillings (US$5) threat­ened his fam­ily with des­ti­tu­tion.

“I was so wor­ried — not about me, but about my chil­dren, my wife,” said the 36-year-old fa­therof-four. “I strug­gled to pay the rent and school fees.”

Close to 40 per­cent of trauma cases at Uganda’s main Mu­lago Hos­pi­tal are the re­sult of boda- boda ac­ci­dents, ac­cord­ing to a joint study in 2010 by the hos­pi­tal and the coun­try’s Mak­erere Univer­sity.

Like sim­i­lar ser­vices in other de­vel­op­ing world ur­ban hubs like Jakarta, SafeBoda hopes to ease traf­fic in the Ugan­dan cap­i­tal con­nect­ing cus­tomers with a reg­is­tered driver nearby with the tap of a fin­ger.

The com­pany has en­listed 75 driv­ers at 20 “stages” — the boda-boda ver­sion of taxi ranks — since its launch in Novem­ber. Each re­ceives driv­ing lessons, mo­tor­cy­cle main­te­nance and cus­tomer ser­vice train­ing, and a first aid course taught by the Uganda Red Cross So­ci­ety.

Driv­ers pay a mem­ber­ship fee of 10,000 shillings a week and are given a smart­phone, a bright or­ange re­flec­tive vest and hel­met, and a spare hel­met for cus­tomers.

“The boda-boda in­dus­try got a bad name,” said SafeBoda’s 28- year- old co- founder Ricky Rapa Thom­son.

“We want to say we are safe bo­das. We should cre­ate a good rep­u­ta­tion that will lead to more busi­ness, so we make more money and be­come more suc­cess­ful,” said Rapa, who has been a boda driver for four years and also runs mo­tor­bike

tours of the city.

Rig­or­ous Vet­ting

It was on one of his tours that a visi­tor from the United King­dom sug­gested meet­ing 30-year-old Bel­gian so­cial en­tre­pre­neur Maxime Dieudonne, to help him de­velop an app to in­crease safety and pro­vide bet­ter ser­vice.

Rapa teamed up with Dieudonne, Scot­tish de­vel­op­ment econo- mist Alastair Sus­sock, 29, and the Rwanda-based mo­bile tech com­pany HeHe Labs to cre­ate SafeBoda.

Sus­sock said the start-up con­ducts a “very lengthy process of driver train­ing and mul­ti­ple in­ter­ac­tions and rec­om­men­da­tions for driv­ers.”

“The re­cent is­sues in In­dia with Uber, with one of the driv­ers ac­cused of rap­ing a pas­sen­ger, shows the chal­lenges on back­ground checks or lack of any checks,” he said.

Sus­sock said that while this made SafeBoda dif­fer­ent from Uber, Lyft and other apps which al­lowed driv­ers to sign up very easily, it en­sured a “higher qual­ity of driv­ers.”

Rig­or­ous vet­ting means there are now 250 boda-boda driv­ers on the SafeBoda wait­ing list. Sil­ver­stone plans to join up, say­ing that his ac­ci­dent taught him the hard way that safety pays.

The SafeBoda app is also evolv­ing and will soon add another Uber-like touch, al­low­ing cus­tomers to rate driv­ers.

The com­pany hopes to have at least 1,000 boda-bo­das across Kampala by the end of the year, be­fore ex­pand­ing re­gion­ally, and per­haps even far­ther.

“There’s a cou­ple of other coun­tries like In­dia that could be re­ally in­ter­est­ing,” said Sus­sock.

For the last six years Juma Ka- ton­gole, 32, has fer­ried pas­sen­gers around Kampala’s no­to­ri­ously pot­holed roads. He joined the SafeBoda pro­gram soon af­ter its launch.

The fa­ther-of-four has gained three new reg­u­lar cus­tomers and reck­ons he takes home an ex­tra 10,000 shillings a day.

“In the fu­ture I’m plan­ning on build­ing a house be­cause I’m still rent­ing,” he said. “I’m happy and cus­tomers are also happy with SafeBoda, they ap­pre­ci­ate it,” he said.


(Left) Driv­ers of mo­tor­bike taxis, known as “boda-bo­das” in Uganda and else­where in East Africa, stand on the side of a road in Kampala on March 6. (Above) A per­son holds a smart­phone with Safeboda ap­pli­ca­tion on March 6.

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