In 2014, SafeBoda opened the door to the ride-hailing industry in Kampala, Uganda.
SafeBoda started with five riders. Ricky Papa Thomson, a co-founder of SafeBoda and a former Boda Boda rider was the sixth.
Today, SafeBoda is 4 years and some months old and it is the most prominent ride-hailing company on Kampala streets.
Thousands of riders have since joined the company.
2 years after SafeBoda’s launch in Kampala, Uber, which had been in Africa for three years, made Uganda its third country for continental expansion after South Africa and Kenya.
But unlike SafeBoda which focused on motorcycles, Uber introduced digital hailing of car taxis.
A year and four months after Uber entered into Kampala, the Estonia-based ride-hailing company, Taxify, on October 27, 2017, also hit the market to compete with Uber first and later, SafeBoda.
In February of this year, Taxify became the first competitor of SafeBoda before Uber also realized the sprawling potential in the Boda Boda industry and set its footprint in the sector one month after Taxify.
Now, there are six ride-hailing companies in Kampala: SafeBoda, Uber, Taxify, Dial Jack (only motorcycles), Little Ride (cars) and Mondo Ride (motorcycles and cars).
The last three came to Uganda this year.
Mondo Ride, founded in 2015 by Troels Andersen, kicked off operations in Kampala in March of this year.
The company first tested its application in Dubai before expanding to Africa to do business in Nairobi, Kisumu, Dar es Salaam, Kampala and Mombasa
Its services in Kampala remain largely invisible as you can hardly see any Mondo Boda on Kampala streets.
In June, 3 months after its launch, Uganda Radio Network (URN) ran a story, quoting some of the Boda riders who had registered with the company but had “waited in vain without hearing from management of Mondo Ride.”
A one Nelson Mangulano told URN that he was quitting the company after finding out that one of the officials who had enrolled him was now working with Taxify. (But this can’t be entirely relied on since it’s not unusual for people to move on after getting better deals.)
To get updates on Mondo Ride operations in Kampala, I contacted the company and I was connected to Edmund Rogers Ongwech, the ride-hailing startup’s marketing manager who told me in an email response they had so far “managed to onboard more than 1000 rider/drivers in Kampala.”
The figure is, however, highly doubtable since a ride-hailing company like Dial Jack which has as few Boda riders as three-hundred can easily be noticed when you move in the city center, where most of these companies tend to concentrate first.
Little Ride, a Kenyan grown ride-hailing company also announced its Kampala launch in May.
Developed by technology firm Craft Silicon, Little Ride was rolled out in Kenya in July 2016.
At the time of expanding to Kampala, Little Ride had registered impressive success in Kenya, amassing hundreds of thousands of users in the country.
In a pre-launch interview, Jefferson Aluda, Little Limited’s head of operations told me they were also planning to expand to Nigeria, Rwanda, and Zambia.
In Uganda, Little is still invisible. Aluda did not respond to our email requests for comment and his known phone number could not be reached.
When we contacted Little Ride through their known contact channels, they referred us to Aluda.
Dial Jack, founded by Jacob Mathew, a New Zealander, who says he’s “deeply interested” in disruptive technology, launched in Kampala on June 21.
It has so far enrolled around 300 riders, according to a recent interview with Mathew.
Ride-hailing companies in a polarized Kampala
As they steer on to revolutionize the transport industry in Kampala, ride-hailing companies have faced a number of challenges, especially from the people that have invested heavily in the sector.
For instance, in the past few months, reports started emerging that traditional Boda Boda riders were attacking their counterparts in the digital transport sector.
In one of the attacks, a SafeBoda rider was beaten and his helmet screen was crushed into pieces.
The companies eventually reported the attacks to police and the Inspector General of Police Okoth Ochola ordered investigations into the matter and directed Kampala Metropolitan Police commanders to ensure the protection of riders.
The resentment by traditional Bodas towards those attached to ride-hailing companies still looms large.
I have witnessed it a couple of times when I’m riding on a SafeBoda and we approached traditional Boda(s) for directions to a particular location and they either refused to tell us or deliberately pointed to a wrong destination.
There are a number of reasons as to why traditional Bodas have issues with digital motorcycle taxi drivers but the most commonly mentioned is that the latter group is taking up most of the work.
Traditional Bodas say their counterparts working with ride-hailing companies pick passengers from every location, rendering Boda Boda Stage rules useless.
Until ride-hailing companies came to Kampala, Stage rules dictated that a Boda Boda was not supposed to carry a passenger from a Stage they’re not attached to when members of that Stage are there.
With ride-hailing apps, a passenger can be picked from anywhere.
When you ask digital Boda cyclists why they’ve not convinced their friends to join them if they (traditional Bodas) feel they (digital riders) are making more money, digital Bodas say that some of them have refused to join ride-hailing companies because of rules that come with being attached to a company. They don’t want bosses.
According to most ride-hailing company officials, this is why they’re taking longer to recruit more riders i.e. most Boda guys find things like obeying traffic rules, having to work by a specified template, a big problem and something they can’t stand.
Some of the traditional Bodas say their colleagues in the ride-hailing industry are being cheated since they pay part of their earnings to companies and they also charge less for trips.
All ride-hailing companies take 15% from every trip a rider/driver makes. But riders are also paid back in terms of bonuses and incentives. They differ from company to company.
While at the end of the day, a traditional Boda could earn more money from a particular trip than a digital Boda, there are more advantages to having passengers call you through an app than waiting for them by the roadside.
For instance, when a traditional Boda Boda takes a trip from, say, Ntinda to Kololo, they may return without a passenger but it is less likely for digital Boda, hence he’ll have a chance to cover for the more fee his counterpart charged a passenger for the same distance.
The attacks on riders attached to ride-hailing companies are also said to be fueled by heads of traditional Boda Boda associations.
In September, I interviewed Muhammad Kasujja, the head of Boda Industry Uganda (BIU), who expressed how he was determined to fight ride-hailing companies.
Some of the regular Boda Bodas have also been reluctant on embracing ride-hailing apps hoping they could be stamped out any day. There’s also those that can’t use apps because of lack of classroom knowledge.
Reaction to ride-hailing companies in Kampala
According to estimates, there are close to two million people in Kampala. The vast majority of these people don’t own vehicles so they use public means of transportation.
Eunice Among, the head of Customer at SafeBoda told me there are more than 7000 SafeBodas in Kampala. Dial Jack has over 300. Mondo Ride claims 1000.
Aaron Tindiseega, the country manager for Uber refused to disclose the number of riders and drivers they have recruited. “Unfortunately we have not published any numbers yet,” he said.
Julian Byamugisha, head of Operations Taxify Uganda promised to give us a report but she hadn’t lived up to her promise up to this time despite a series of reminders.
By numbers, SafeBoda is still the most popular app. It is hard to tell of Taxify and Uber who has more presence in Kampala, but most observers say Taxify has more Bodas than Uber while Uber has more drivers than Taxify.
Dial Jack follows after Uber and Taxify
From the figures above, you can see that these riders and drivers can’t serve the huge number of passengers. Even if they were willing to use the apps.
But as more companies hit the market and advertising gets aggressive, people are getting to know the benefits of using digital transport service apps.
The ride-hailing companies in Kampala have also done a couple of ‘crazy’ promotions by slashing prices to as low as half of what would be the normal prices.
Some have offered free rides to users and a number of other interesting things to woo customers.
Those who have used the apps say they love them because they’re “reliable”, you’re assured of security even when traveling at night since you know the person carrying you, others say they’re “convenient” and “safe”.
Those who haven’t use them or rarely use them don’t like the fact that you’ve to wait before a rider comes so they prefer standing on the roadside and go with the next Boda guy, others still like the cheaper options by Kampala taxis and there are those who don’t know how the apps work and they’ve not bothered to learn about them.
There is also an issue of coverage. In some areas, most of these apps can’t be used or you’ll find the nearest rider will take longer than you can to wait for them to reach you.
This is what has made SafeBoda so popular. They’ve been able to expand faster than their competitors so even when they may not be your preference in the market (but you like digital rides compared to other means), they’ll be easily accessed.
For instance, when we tested the apps for different locations, Taxify proved to be the cheapest, which would make it a priority to people who care lot about cutting costs.
Taxify was the cheapest followed by SafeBoda then Uber and lastly Dial Jack.
In a recent social media poll SautiTech conducted, out of 325 people who voted, 63% of them said they preferred SafeBoda, 21% (Taxify), 14% (Uber) and 2% (Dial Jack).
Which ride-hailing app do you use for your daily transport?
— SautiTech (@SautiTech) November 3, 2018
According to Tindiseega, an Uber user can order for a ride when in some parts of Mukono, Kampala, Wakiso, Nansana, Kajjansi, and Entebbe.
He says the main challenges they’ve had with recruiting motorcyclists and drivers is that most of them don’t have permits so they’ve to first convince them to acquire them. Some of the ride-hailing companies help rider/drivers get most of the necessary tools (helmets, smartphones, reflectors) and then pay back in an agreed upon arrangement.
Other than that, he is optimistic about the ride-hailing business in Uganda.
For Ongwech, while he says they’ve “had a relatively smooth time launching in Kampala”, just as Uber, they are also having a hard time getting riders with the “necessary requirements.”
He says they’re currently strong in the “central business district and all the major areas of Kampala”.
“In case you need a ride from anywhere in Kampala, you can always contact our 24/7 Customer Support Center via call/chat should you need a ride at any time,” he said in an email.
Eunice Among says some of the biggest challenges SafeBoda has faced in the process of acquiring customers are “high internet costs” and the slow adaptability to technology trends by the community.
For instance, SafeBoda is struggling to make most of its users embrace the cashless payment option despite making it cheaper than using cash.
The company has also had a tough time recruiting engineers to work on its applications, a thing that forced them to consider opening an engineering hub in Europe.
Basing on what has been happening this year, it is not ill-informed that ride-haling industry has potential as along as the ride-hailing companies involved continue to introduce solutions that the market needs.
Dial Jack, for instance, has initiated the Hail model in Kampala, whereby one can hail a ride even when they don’t have a smartphone.
SafeBoda partnered with MTN to allow customers to hail rides even when they don’t have data for some specified destinations.
With intensified marketing and creating more awareness, people will continuously learn about the industry and endorse it.
The companies have also rolled out attractive benefits to their riders/drivers, for instance, incentivizing them for more work and offering insurance packages.
Riders also say their saving rates have also increased and they’re starting to gain respect from society because their job is being professionalized.
Moses Musinguzi, who wears SafeBoda helmet number I in a recent engagement on social media revealed that he had been able to construct a “2-bedroom house” from part of his savings.
I have achieved so much.
1. I have become professional at my job because of training
2. Social wise am now more respected than before.
3. Financial wise, @SafeBoda pays my earnings every Tuesday which has boosted my savings and I have managed to build my 2 bed room house. https://t.co/kKnnFnqw3S
— Moses Musinguzi ??↔️?? (@MosesNambaEmu) November 9, 2018
Passengers no longer have to worry a lot about their safety and security since the ride-hailing companies put in the time to train the riders. Those who flout the rules are punished.
SafeBoda has also taken it to another level by setting up an academy and in my recent interview with Alastair Sussock, one of the company founders, he said they would erecting more facilities in other parts of the country.
The companies have also promised to expand to other parts of transportation like food and item deliveries.