What will bring back passengers to motorcycles?

What you need to know:

  • The Covid-19 pandemic is taking a heavy toll on Uganda’s tech export and ride hailing application, SafeBoda (SB). Mr Ricky Rappa, founder of SafeBoda in an interiview with Prosper Magazine, expounds on the new strategies required to boost the boda business.

How has the pandemic treated SafeBoda?
It is a difficult time. The challenge varies. For riders, we have not had enough business and income yet they have loans and families to take care of. It has been very tough for us and our community as our customers are also locked in their homes. 

What impact has the lockdown had on Safeboda’s business revenue?
The delivery platform is only 10 per cent of the business’ total revenue from rides. So business revenue has dropped from 90 per cent to only 10 per cent. This is a big drop.

Our drivers are not earning. Those that were earning between Shs50,000 and Shs70,000 a day are only getting about Shs10,000. 

Do you anticipate a drop in rider numbers after lockdown because of the effect of the pandemic?
Yes, so we have 18,000 riders and already, 30 per cent of the riders have left Kampala for their villages since there was no business for them here. The number could have increased because with deliveries, they are still not earning enough.

Some of those that went to the villages might not come back as they venture into other means of survival such as agriculture or a small business as the pandemic stretches for more months.

Many companies have taken measures such as pay cuts and layoffs to stay afloat through this period. How has SafeBoda coped thus far?
We invested a lot into our delivery platform in partnership with United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and we were able to keep our staff fairly engaged.

As any company, we have had discussions with our staff, and since we are building a community, every individual agreed to make a sacrifice such that SafeBoda continues to operate. The sacrifice was in different aspects such as salaries, through reduction of number of working days among others such that no one loses their job. 

How has the delivery strategy worked out for you, especially since the public’s purchasing power has dropped?
Through different partnerships, we delivered essential items for free. There was need for essential products which could not be avoided, and we delivered for free. 

What is your opinion about President Museveni’s remarks about boda bodas causing confusion in the city and are highly risky when it comes to spreading the virus?
There has not been any study that proves that boda bodas are at high risk of spreading the virus. In the other countries where we operate such as Kenya and Nigeria, they have allowed bodas to operate. 

We understand that there are political issues, and we know we are in a situation where we need to be very careful. But we ask government to be considerate because the Boda Boda industry employs many youth. 

We also support the economy through paying indirect taxes. If we could have clearer direction of organisation, we could still be able to operate business. So, to what extent is government willing to invest in the Boda Boda industry to make it work?

The boda industry contributes to the economy through indirect taxes. Instead of shunning the industry, it would be prudent to show the Boda bodas a clearer direction to get organised. 
There is a general lack of political will to see the Boda Boda industry organised. 

To what extent is government willing to invest in this industry to set it straight. 
When you look at roads in Kampala, the designs do not include an allocation for bodas. Yet if you go to Kenya, they have a lane for their bodas. 

If you were at the steering wheel, how would you transform the industry?
I believe we need to professionalise the businesss. As Safe Boda, we trained and addressed the knowledge gap amongst our riders. 

For instance having a training institute such that when riders come out, they are able to provide professional services and government will have clear knowledge on who is in the boda boda industry, who has just joined, such that the business can be regulated. 

What middle ground can be reached between the boda industry and government? 
Thecoronavirus is spread by people who neglect simple things such as washing their hands, wearing a face mask and don’t social distance. We had an innovation where we said we can put a glass to keep a gap between the rider and passenger. 

We also suggested partnering up with petrol stations such that our bodas pass through maybe twice or thrice a day to wash their bodas such that they keep clean and safe. 

But also, our riders wear helmets meaning there will not be a chance to spread any virus to anybody. The cashless feature also limits exchange of physical money. 

What do you think of government’s stimulus package for businesses?
I have heard of it but haven’t yet read it. Though my concern is that it should include everybody because we all play a vital role in the economy. 

Does maintaining the current status quo pose a threat to the future of SafeBoda?
Refusing bodas to move passengers poses a threat to everyone, including SafeBoda, the population, the economy and leadership as well. 

What lessons have you have learnt from this pandemic?
We realised we were not paying a lot of attention to the delivery aspect of our business which is a potential revenue stream even post covid. 

We have also seen more people paying attention to cashless payments compared to before. In addition, I think government needs to play a key role in ensuring the informal sector saves for the future. 

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