Boda boda (bicycle taxis) made their entry into public commuter transport business in the 1970s from the border town of Busia, ferrying travellers from the town centre to customs exit point for a fraction of the cost of the conventional motor vehicle taxis.
It is from here that the name boda boda was derived and many years later, they have metamorphosed from the manual cycles to motorised bikes now under popular brands Bajaj Boxer and TVs, giving income opportunities to many people, either as riders or owners. Henry Sserunjoji is one of the people who have benefited from the business.
At the time Sserunjoji worked as a mechanic at a garage in Bunga and wanted to supplement his income. Because he could not do both jobs at the same time, he hired someone to ride the motorcycle.
Business was good and after a few months, he bought two more motorcycles from the same company at Shs1.2 million. He quit the mechanic job to concentrate on the boda boda business, thus becoming one of the riders. He saved money to buy more motorcycles in the bid to enlarge the business. “I would not wait for my workers to raise much money for me to get other motorcycles, since I was also working,” he says.
When he started, each rider would have to bring to him Shs6,000 everyday which translated to Shs36,000 a week (Sunday was deemed a rest day for the rider). Any money the rider earned over and the above Shs6,000 was for the rider and it would cater for his fuel, service and repair costs.
Today the daily charge has increased to Shs10,000. “I now have four boda boda motorcycles, each of which brings in Shs60,000 every week,” Sserunjoji says.
In spite of all the challenges in the business, Sserunjoji has stuck in the trade, constantly renewing the tools of his trade. “I sell off the old motorcycle, top-up some money, and then get a new one. I never and do not give out boda bodas on loan as it is with some people in the same business,” he says.
How he manages
Trust – choosing who to trust – is one of the things that have got him going. “I normally make sure that I entrust my boda bodas with trustworthy people so as to eliminate loses,” he says. “I have always gotten time to discuss with my workers, one-on-one, depending on the time he comes. In most cases, they come with traffic related problems, among others, asking for day offs in order to fix them.” “I normally record losses on such days because it is very hard to ask for money, from a person who spent the whole day in the garage or not at work.”
Sserunjoji has his books of accounts where he records the business input and output.
This helps him to the monitor the money flow. One of the conditions set for Sserunjoji’s workers is; “Failure to comply with the rules and regulations, return the motorcycle.”
“If I happen to realise that the person is giving me headache, I confiscate the boda boda and give it to another person who will comply with the regulations,” he says, adding, “I believe that any business without regulations can’t last for long, since workers would do as they are pleased, hence the collapse.”
Sserunjoji notes that there is nothing much to complain about in his whole business system but the rampant family problems workers raise and the break downs of the machines, stress him a lot. However, he is compensated by what he earns from the boda boda he rides.
Henry Sserunjoji has managed to take care of his family, the parents and paying his children’s school fees from the businesses.
Thriving in the boda business
Simon Peter Muleke, who owns more than four boda bodas, started with one motorcycle in 2009. He rode it for 12 months as he saved for the second one that he rented out to his colleague, who then reported Shs30,000 per week.
He normally sells off the old motorcycles to buys new ones. Muleke says he currently rents out his motorcycles to people who report with Shs60,000 a week.
“I agreed with my employees to always give me Shs60,000 every week without fail. I look forward to buying more motorcycles to expand the business and also set up other businesses to enlarge his income base,” he says.
Muleke mentions the traffic police as the most significant challenge that most boda boda cyclists face during their day-to-day operations.
“I have always lost a good sum of money to the traffic men who impound the motorcycles even when there is nothing to blame. They never listen to explanations, what they want is money (bribe) in order to set you free,” he says.