Curious or Genius?

Uber Reignites Nigeria’s Truncated Bike-Hailing Wars In A New Theatre

By  |  January 31, 2022

It might seem like it’s been ages but it wasn’t that long ago that e-hailing firms were vying for pole position in Nigeria’s very active two-wheeler transport segment.

Commercial motorcycle transport (known locally as Okada) is a popular means of getting around for many people in Nigeria given the inadequacies of the country’s transport network, and some estimates claim over 8 million Okada riders are plying Nigeria’s roads – from busy city motorways to inner-city dirt roads and rural areas.

But the informal and unregulated nature of the industry has seen it become a cesspool for crime and recklessness over the years. Thus, when tech companies came onto the scene with a technology and infrastructure stack that seemed tailor-made to cut out the notoriety and inconveniences that have long plagued the space, it seemed like a gamechanger.

Starting from 2015, the bike-hailing scene began to heat up with the e-hailing startups all seeking to first establish themselves in Nigeria’s commercial nerve, Lagos, before branching out to other parts of the country. Venture capital flowed in the tens of millions of dollars as startups like MAX.ng, Gokada, and later OPay (via ORide) all raised significant funding. Their brightly coloured bikes and helmets flooded Lagos, and they even tested in other cities.

Against the run of play, bike-hailing suffered a rug-pull in early-2020 when the Lagos State Government abruptly banned commercial motorcycle transport.

This sent e-hailing firms into a tailspin – ORide was discontinued, while Gokada and MAX.ng have had to redesign their business. (Interestingly, informal Okada riders are back on Lagos’ roads, creating the impression that the ban actually only killed bike-hailing companies that had sought to sanitise and formalise the sector.)

Since then, the bike-hailing scene has simply lost its sheen and become somewhat comatose, at least in Africa’s tech startup capital, Lagos. But it appears another city some 2 hours away (by road) from Lagos could become the new bike-hailing wars theatre. 

Two years after the Lagos State government banned the operation of motorbike transport on Lagos roads, the operators are increasingly finding a favourable turf in nearby Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State, Southwest Nigeria.

SafeBoda made the move in 2020, launching a ride-hailing service in Ibadan, as many other motorbike operators affected by the Lagos ban pivoted to logistics to stay in business.

But perhaps no one saw Uber throwing its hat in at some point. Barely a week ago, Uber announced the expansion of its product offering in Ibadan with the launch of UberMoto, a two-wheeler low-cost alternative and mobility option for city residents. 

UberMoto extends on current product offerings already available in the city as residents of Ibadan are now able to travel around the city by requesting the trusted and vetted motorcycles (Okadas) which are now available on the Uber app.

Launched as a low-cost alternative option, UberMoto’s minimum fare starts at NGN 100.00 (USD 0.24) offering riders a lower-cost alternative. The service is initially being launched in Ibadan, where Uber began operations in October 2021, with UberX.

Tope Akinwumi, Country Manager for Uber in Nigeria explains: “As we recover, we know we need to continue to offer solutions that respond to consumers who are looking for smart mobility solutions while providing new revenue streams and earning opportunities for drivers. 

“It makes sense for us to launch a product that will help passengers get to their destination quicker, which is where we can leverage our technology and we are excited to introduce UberMoto to make this a reality.”

The rollout of Uber’s bike taxi in Ibadan is the first time Uber is venturing into motorcycle transport in Nigeria since entering the country in 2014 when it launched in Lagos. And this is coming years after Uber rolled out UberMoto for the first time in 2016 in Thailand where it has since been forced to discontinue the service due to government policies.

UberMoto first entered the African continent in 2018 when launched in Uganda, the home country of rival, SafeBoda, and subsequently expanded to Kenya. Naturally, the motorcycle service was expected to expand into Nigeria as the local bike-hailing scene was red-hot about the same period but that move never materialised, until now. Perhaps time will tell whether the curious timing of UberMoto’s launch in Nigeria is too little too late or genius.

Uber’s cab-hailing service launched in Ibadan last year and it’s currently in competition with rival, Bolt. By extending into bike-hailing in a city of nearly 4 million people where Okada remains popular, Uber would also be slugging it out with SafeBoda which has had quite the headstart.

Featured Image Courtesy: ESI Africa

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