By Mercy Agenorwot Consolate
The boda-boda business should be Uganda’s second largest employer after agriculture according to a 2013 report by Standard bank.
However the industry that has been in the country for over two decades now, is also top of the list for crime as notorious road accidents, murders and theft among others.
Most of these are caused by recklessness, over speeding, failure to observe traffic lights, competition for space as well as congestion in the city as observed by commander of Traffic at Central Police station, Kampala, Norman Musinga.
“We register over 20 cases of boda accidents a day. Minor where maybe just the bike is injured, serious where the passenger or rider is injured and fatal whose result could be death,” he explains.
With over 120,000 motorcycles, 80,000 cyclists 0perate as boda bodas in central region alone as recorded by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).
However over the years the industry has seen great technological changes such as the development of boda sharing or boda hailing services.
These services which include associations as safe boda, Uganda’s first sharing service, Taxify boda and Uber boda involve requesting for cyclists through an application with fixed price charges depending on the destination.
The cyclist adorning helmets and reflective numbered organization vests then find out the location using Google maps services. They come with an extra numbered one for the passenger upon which it is their choice whether to wear it or not.
Following the assassination of Arua Municipality MP, the late Ibrahim Abiriga, the president of Uganda Yoweri Kaguta Museveni issued a directive that all motorcyclists should wear numbered helmets with reflective paint.
These however are already in place with the presence of boda sharing services. But are they the answer to insecurity in Uganda?
How the Boda sharing Business runs.
To explain this, let us single out the operations of Safe boda, a service developed in 2014 in Uganda whose idea has been passed on to other major motor-care services as Uber and Taxify.
A boda boda who has been in the industry for a while applies to join Safe boda. His or her motorcycle is checked to see whether it is fit for the road.
The rider is then trained by the organization by help from the Ministry of health in this case Mulago hospital, on passenger care and road discipline among which includes diligently following traffic rules.
They are also trained on how to use the application that connects them with the passenger. This training happens for a week first, then with time the cyclists are called back depending on new innovations.
Eventually one is accorded two numbered company helmets for themselves and the passenger as well as a vest labelled with the company logo and cyclist’s name, and a light head net which they pick up every day.
The net is meant to prevent transferring of skin disease as ring-worms from one person to another from sharing of helmets.
“As a former boda boda rider, there is a pride to having a jacket labelled in your name, being known, knowing that you are offering your community quality service and getting good customer ratings. We work with bodas that have clear records of crime and conscience so they are not afraid to have their names on these jackets,” explains Ricky Rapa Thompson, the co-founder of Safe boda.
The Safe Boda application alsocontains a six starratings part where by the customer rates the cyclist upon reaching destination judging fromthe level of careful customer care prohibited.
The next customer to use this cyclist can always check theirratings from past paseengers and decide on whether to ride with them or not.
The rider is also answerable to the company uponexceeding poor ratings so as to Dee where to improve them.
So far the biggest challenge with the sharing service is that they are not yet available in towns in the outskirts of the city like Mukono.
And according to Ricky, another problem is changing the perception of a rider who had been riding without following traffic rules to start behaving accordingly.
The graph below shows the level of use of the boda sharing services in the Central region and the areas in which they are mostly used for the past 12 months in Uganda.( Taxify in blue, Uber Boda in red and Safe boda in Orange)
(Pictures showing the rate of usage of Taxify, Uber and safe boda in central as got from Google alert)
One wonders what stops other boda-boda cyclists who have not yet joined such prestigious organizations from a taking a leap of faith and doing so.
Suula Kakulu a chairperson of boda bodas at Shoprite-Kampala stage seems to think because these boda bodas use the internet to get customers, they get only a few hence making little profits.
”These days prices of everything is going up. Fuel, taxes like social media tax meaning I cannot afford to be on the internet. I need money to pay fees, to service my motorcycle and survive,” he says.
Currently, petrol fuel price in Uganda has increased to UGShs 4,160 from about Ugshs 3000 before , Insurance for a motorcycle is Ugshs 50,000 from 20-30,000 before and Passenger Service Vehicles pay Advance income tax which is Ugshs 32,000 including bank charges.
How the normal boda-boda business runs.
A motorcycle is about UGshs 35Million of which the most commonly used brands are the Bajaj Boxer and Tvs brands from Indian manufacturers.
A good riding helmet costs about UGshs 100,000 hence causing riders to only have one and yet the traffic rules require that both passenger and cyclist wear these.
Every boda is supposed to have a specific stage from which they operate under one single chairperson. In each stage there is a membership fee to be paid according to the agreement. This enables government to collect taxes easily.
However there are many bodas that do not operate within stages and these re very hard to find for they have no exact location hence bringing about hindrance in development of the transport sector in Uganda.
According Sula, most of these without stages come from far towns and loiter.
“Infact it is hard to get them. Most of them steal from customers. They get the money from the customer and immediately ride away and it is hard to trace them. ”
At Suula Kakulu’s stage there is a maximum of 21 bodas and each pays UGShs 300,000 once on joining which according to him is no longer very valuable.
On a good day, a boda boda business man in Kampala earns from Ugshs 30,000 -50, 000 meaning in a month they earn about Ugshs 600,000. Of this they spend about Ugshs 100,000 on fuel leaving them with about Ugshs 400,000 tax free.
What is the future of the boda boda industry?
In February, 2018, KCCA publicly announced that they were working on fresh registration programme for the boda bodas.
This is to help streamline the industry so as to enable adequate taxation for the benefit of the economy as well as promote road safety in making sure every boda boda cyclist has a numbered helmet with reflective paint as issued by the president.
However when we asked for the development of this plan, Mr. Kintu David from the office of the Minister of Kampala could not share any information.
“Right now we cannot give any information because we are under order not yet to give any on the plans government has. But government will be transparent once it is published.”
Commander Norman however, applauds the boda hailing services on the good road safety measures they are taking,
“These people are organised. They wear helmets, they follow traffic lights. We are now working to make sure that the rest of the boda boda business is in line with traffic regulations. They must have jackets and helmets. We ask of them to be better business people. ”
More of these services continue to saturate the industry. On 20th June, a new company known as Dial Jack was launched in Uganda.
The competition for better road safety services continue.