Safe boda riders
By Rebecca Nabejja
Motorcycles, or boda bodas as they are commonly referred to, are the main forms of transport in Kampala, but over the years there has been a prevalence of traffic accidents caused by these boda bodas.
But a new company that trains so-called “Safe Bodas,” a community of model boda boda drivers that riders request using a mobile application, is growing in popularity as a potential solution to dangers on the road.
Data from the Department of Traffic Police indicates that of the 7,000 people killed in boda boda accidents between 2015 and 2017 in Uganda, more than 60 per cent (4,200) of the deaths were recorded in Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono districts.
Police said that every month they record more than 300 serious accidents, 500 minor ones and close to 100 fatalities, all resulting from reckless riding. Figures indicate that 24,352 motorcyclists, passengers and pedestrians were seriously injured in such accidents in the last three years, 16,000 of whom were in Kampala.
There are about 1.9 million people in Kampala and 80,000 boda bodas, but these numbers may be higher since many users do not have formal identification as boda boda drivers.
Kampala Metropolitan traffic operations commander Julius Luyima said that every day, they register 10 accidents; 15 minor and three fatalities. He attributed the increasing boda boda accidents to a number of factors, among others unemployment where many youth have ventured into the boda boda industry without formal training.
“Someone wakes up in the morning and asks a friend or relative to buy him a boda boda for a living. They don’t mind about going through training but their main aim is to get money for survival. Most of these riders involved in accidents don’t have riding permits and are new riders on Kampala roads, Luyima said.
At least 40% of road accidents are due to boda boda injuries. It was found that 1% use helmets and 50% of the patients who are admitted with head injuries die, said Dr. Alex Bangirana of Mulago Hospital.
Bangirana added that if boda boda drivers wore helmets and followed road traffic regulations, there would be a decrease in the number of injuries and the severity of these injuries.
According to the World Health Organisation, wearing a helmet reduces the risk of death by 40% and the risk of severe injuries by 70%.
SafeBoda, born in June 2018, is a market-based solution to road safety in Kampala that provides training in road
safety, bike maintenance, and first aid to its community of safe boda boda model drivers as well as quality helmets to their customers. The client searches for the SafeBoda with the help of a mobile application; the SafeBoda driver with a SafeBoda Number (SB Number) receives a notification and then picks the customer up so that the passenger can enjoy a safe ride.
SafeBoda also offers a corporate package where companies can sign up their staff who have field operations on the platform under a single account. This is becoming popular with companies that want to cut down on high costs they are incurring with travel agencies or car hire companies.
Rara Thompson Ricky, co-founder of SafeBoda, said he started the initiative with his friends to ensure the safety of boda boda passengers.
“I was really passionate about having this problem of people dying in the boda boda industry,” Ricky said, “so we wanted to make sure that people are able to commute from point A to point B without the fear of not knowing who you’re riding with.”
Moses Musinguzi, the driver technology manager and SafeBoda driver of number SB001, the first ever SafeBoda, said that SafeBoda is legitimizing the job of a boda boda driver, which changes the mindset of those that thought low of such drivers before.
“Before people thought that boda boda riders were failures in life, but now we are a bit professionalising the job,” Musinguzi said. “Everyone is proud of the job and what he is doing, most especially the SafeBoda riders.”
George Williams, a recruitment manager at SafeBoda and number SB0069, said the importance of training a new SafeBoda driver was to ensure safety, trust, and integrity.
“We give them safety training that they have to use helmets both for him and the customer. He has to look smart on his job. He has to trust the customer and understand customer care service,” Williams said.
Williams added that SafeBoda drivers work hard enough to earn money to develop themselves while their children go to school.
Jimmy Olima, a SafeBoda driver of number SB890, said that the way Ugandans are using boda bodas is changing.
“Before you didn’t know who you were riding with, whether they were safe, or reliable, or trustworthy,” says Olima, “But now with SafeBod,a we are able to know who you are riding with because they are trained. They qualify to be on the road; they follow traffic rules and they are okay.”
Given the notorious accident-prune reputation that Kampala boda bodas have garnered, SafeBoda have proven to be safer and more professional bodas around the city, several customers said. But on the other hand, the coming of this innovation has not been entirely accepted by the usual boda boda drivers.
Ismail Kalyesubula, a boda boda driver in Kampala, said he is not sure whether SafeBoda actually pays off because the riders are a bit restricted and are therefore not able to earn as much as the normal boda bodas
“These SafeBodas, they only use the phone, which not everyone can afford it,” said Kalyesubula, “But me I would rather stay here where I can earn more than them.”
Many, however, have chosen to opt for SafeBoda instead of using the normal bodabodas.
Andrew Kabagambe, a second year student at Makerere University, said he prefers to use SafeBoda because it offered a safer and cheaper option compared to the usual boda bodas.
“It’s impressive, especially for a student, because their services are really cheap and cares about your safety,” says Kabagambe.
SafeBoda has not extended outside of Kampala just yet, even though issues of transportation, road safety, and traffic rules are similar across the country. However, SafeBoda management believed expanding outside of Kampala presents an opportunity for growth in other growing cities, once the service providers have exhausted the pie in Kampala.