One of the most basic needs of man – apart from food, clothing and shelter – is mobility. Since the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th century, man has built machines to take him faster to his destination, and to take him to further and further destinations than ever before. As these machines have evolved, so have the modes evolved. Transport is probably the largest single industry in the world today.
The ongoing digital revolution of the late 20th and early 21st centuries has not left the transportation ecosystem untouched, as newer and newer apps strive to make the process of moving people and their goods from one point to another as speedy and seamless as possible. In Africa, these ride hailing apps account for about $73b in annual turnover, with a 19.2% growth rate, and Nigeria accounts for a big chunk of the African market.
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But what are the challenges? What opportunities need to be more fully exploited in this market? What’s the state of play as far as the competition is concerned, and what windows exist for cooperation and collaboration among the ‘techies’ driving these innovations? And how soon can we (especially commuters in cities like Lagos) hope to find relief from the massive gridlocks that have made life such a gruelling experience?
It was surely expected that a Conference devoted to leveraging the technological explosion for business growth should take a hard look at innovations in the transportation ecosystem. A breakout panel to deal with the issues and trends in the exciting world or ride-hailing apps was moderated by Lolade Ososami, a partner at the law firm of Udo-Udoma and Bello-Osagie. She was joined by Tope Akinwumi, the Nigeria Country Manager of UBER; Onyeka Akumah, the cofounder and CEO of PlentyWaka; and Olumide Akinsola, head of marketing and acquisition at the Ibadan-based Safeboda.
NEWSWIRE’s correspondent at the event reported that all the companies represented on the abreakout session had broken new ground in some way – Uber being, of course, the world’s largest ride-hailing service, while PlentyWaka ranks as Nigeria’s first-ever BUS-hailing app. Safeboda provides ultramodern motorbike services in Ibadan and its environs – Akinsola called it the ‘Below-the-Line version of Uber.’
At this juncture, though, is the industry standing at a red, yellow or green light? Definitely YELLOW, all three panelists agreed. The industry is all set to go to the next stage of its global evolution, depending on how it is able to resolve the lingering technical and systemic bottlenecks that still stand in its way. These bottlenecks include the current inadequacy of both physical and digital infrastructure; the lack of, or limited,p internet access in large swathes of the Nigerian landmass, especially the rural areas; push-back from traditional players in the industry; manpower orientation, among others.
These challenges, the panelists say, are happily mitigated by the growing collaborations among ride-hailing app companies in the country (especially in the areas of code-sharing and payment solutions, etc.); innovations designed to meet the challenge of infrastructural and digital deficits (such as Uber’s UberBoat, a well as its Limited-internet access solution; PlentyWaka’s SchoolWaka, TravelWaka, among others.
On the flip side, the panelists were upbeat in their projections about the future of the industry. In the words of Akinsola, the SafeBoda executive, three factors account for this optimism: One is the sheer size and constant mobility of the Nigerian market. Two is the quality of talent available in the Nigerian techie space. Three is the increasing number and sophistication of digital payment gateways in the country. As for pushback, he said, the solution is to build trust with conventional players in a way that creates a win-win situation for everyone. This, in the case of SafeBoda, has included knowledge-sharing in keys areas such as inventory-management
The panelists were unanimous in their assertion that the response from the market has been gratifying. In spite of the current challenges, they say, it’s just a matter of time before the bucket colour turns from yellow to GREEN.
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