Getting around Africa is an interesting experience, to say the least! You have a few options including the private mini bus, the taxi and the motor bike taxi. If you are lucky, there will be a train, or a local airline.
The mini busses are, in my opinion, by far the most fun. Although, sometimes, in the blazing heat, being stuck in traffic being sat in traffic next to someone with a basket of fish on their lap, with no escape route, can push the limits a little! These mini buses take a set route, much like the bus routes here in the UK. A colleague of the driver will have his head out of the window shouting and signalling which route, and potential passengers flag it down. If they are lucky, there is a space to sit (maybe on some ones lap) and they will hop in. They are not the most comfortable of rides, and I have been in the position where the door has fallen off mid journey, and the front seat passenger had to put his foot on the break while the driver went to relieve himself (the handbrake didn’t work!)
Some taxis operate in a similar way, but most are like the Hackney cabs of London, that you flag down and charter. The difference is, and this is the fun bit of taxis, you haggle the price. If you are a skilled bargainer, and are willing to use any tactic to get the price down, such as hail two taxis and have them actually bargain against each other, then you will get a good price.
The local taxis are under threat! Uber is changing the market all over the world and it has recently entered Africa. It is now operating within 10 sub-Saharan, including Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and most recently Ghana. They are quickly, and aggressively trying to grab as much market share as possible, some may think at the detriment to the local driver. There have been reports of Uber taxis being burnt in Kenya and attacks on drivers in South Africa, due to Uber pushing down the prices and putting the local taxis out of business.
But, Uber’s success could be about to falter as more and more likeminded companies are popping up across the continent. Little Cabs, in Kenya, was launched by Safaricom, who also own M-Pesa, in July. The company aims to offer cheaper rides, a bigger share of revenues to drivers and WiFi in every taxi. I am told that people are very excited about the WiFi in the taxi! The firm ran into problems last week when they announced that they had to change their name to just ‘Little’ because, apparently, someone forgot to trademark the name! This is surely a consequence of how aggressive Uber are in entering the market. Safaricom must have thought they need to react quickly, and in the heat of development (Craft Silicon’s CEO Kamal Bugdabatti said, the app was developed in around a month) they forgot to change the name. I have also heard that their invoices and other documents are not very professional and therefore not optimum for professional use, but I am sure this will be sorted out in time.
Other strategies are being used by Uber’s competitors across the continent. Taxify in South Africa believes being nice to drivers will benefit their growth, even though their prices are higher than Ubers’. Mondo Ride, a Saudi Arabian firm are also targeting the Kenyan and Tanzanian market and they will expand the service to include local motorbike taxis as well as avoid price surging, which has brought Uber some bad press in recent weeks.
One of my favourite ideas is from Afro from Nigeria, which actually enables customers to haggle with the driver. This brings a little bit of the fun back to hailing a cab! Within the app you have a + and – button to choose how much you are willing to play, if a driver agrees, you have your ride, if not, bid a little higher!
Some get frustrated regarding transportation around Africa, but it is a great way to get to know culture and people. I wouldn’t be surprised if soon the mini bus system is also given a fresh lease of life. At the moment there is a battle between the local taxi drivers and Uber and its competitors, but in the long run, I see this finally formalising taxis in Africa, which will be better for drivers and for customers, who will no longer be ripped off by strong negotiating drivers. This battle, though, may be renewed if Uber launch their driverless cars in Africa, which would take away employment from many hard working drivers.
Do you have any good, funny or bad stories about African transportation? Please let me know in a comment or on Twitter @InventiveAfrica