By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
The lingering fuel scarcity rocking the nation is taking a huge toll on the ride hailing industry with many drivers unable to meet up with scheduled loans repayment, Business Hallmark can reliably report.
The scarcity which surfaced in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and neighbouring states around November 2021, had spread to other parts of the country, particularly South West states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, as well as Port Harcourt and other cities in the second week of February 2022 when oil marketers stopped the sale of fuel after methanol above national specifications was detected in the gasoline imported into the country by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and some of its agents.
The stoppage of the off-spec petrol sales by marketers resulted in the disruption of petrol supply chain, leading to queues in several parts of the country. Apart from causing damages to many automobiles, it also disrupted economic activities with many businesses grounded or badly affected.
One of the badly hit sectors is the ride hailing industry which is currently reeling under the effects of the scarcity. Owing to the non-availability of fuel, many drivers have resorted to buying from black marketers at very exorbitant prices.
According to BH findings, a gallon of petrol now sells for as high as N2,500 in the black market. The drivers that could not get fuel to buy or afford the high black market rates withdrew the vehicles from the roads.
Expectedly, transport prices skyrocketed. For instance, the two biggest ride-hailing firms in the country, Uber and Bolt increased the price of rides across Nigerian cities by over 100%.
A trip which previously cost about N2,000 now goes for around N4,500. A middle class worker who works on the Island but stays in Gbagada, complained bitterly over the sudden surge in the cost of taking Bolt and Uber rides to and from work.
According to the worker, he used to spend an average of N3,000 commuting to work and back home using ride hailing cabs.
“However, what I now spend on transportation has more than doubled since fuel scarcity surfaced in early February.
“Before I stopped patronising ride hailing cabs in the last week of February, I was spending between N6,500 and N8,000.
“I and some of my colleagues at work had to resort to ride sharing to cut down the price of transport. How we do it is that if we use someone’s car this week, it would be the turn of another next week.
“As we are four, what it means is that one ends up coughing out only one week transport fare.
“Last Friday clocked exactly two weeks that the arrangement started. And we have been able to save a lot of money that we are even contemplating making it a permanent arrangement after the scarcity must have ended”, declared the respondent who prayed to be identified by his middle name of Soji.
Our correspondent gathered that thousands of working-class Nigerians who do not have their own vehicles but rely heavily on ride hailing companies for their daily commuting have been abandoning them for alternative transport modes like the Bus Rapid Transportation (BRT).
“The rise in the cost of riding Bolt and Uber cabs has negatively hit my purse. With the income I presently earn, I can no longer afford it.
“Come to think of it, I believe the BRT option is even a better alternative. From my house in Ketu to Marina where I work, i now spend only N300 on a one way journey. While the return journey cost another N300.
“Before now, I spend between N4000 to N5,000 shuttling between my residence and office. But I now spend less than N1,000 on a daily basis. The development is an eye opener.
“The only downside is that I now trek like five minutes from my house to the bus terminal to get a vehicle to work and another five minutes to the office after alighting at Leventis Bus Stop.
“The same process is repeated on my way back home in the evening. So, I spend not more than 20 minutes everyday trekking. It has even made me to be fitter”, declared Boye Coker, a middle level accountant with an accounting firm in Marina, Lagos.
Many Nigerians, especially the ordinary ones are finding it more difficult to afford ride-hailing-based transportation. Six out of ten Nigerians who spoke with BH confided that they had temporarily suspended moving around in ride hailing cabs, particularly Uber and Bolt.
The decision by many Nigerians to cut cost, findings revealed, has negatively affected most drivers, especially those who got their vehicles on higher purchase arrangements.
Checks revealed that drivers in this category are in the majority. While 30 out of the 50 drivers who responded to BH poll said they got their vehicles through loans/higher purchase, 13 claimed they personally owned their vehicles and only 7 claimed the vehicles they ride were gifted by family members and friends.
” I can tell you without fear of contradiction that about 70% of the vehicles deployed as ride hailing cabs were purchased through loans or one form of financial arrangement or the other.
“My wife got the N3.5 million loan I am using as Uber from LAPO. I pay back every week the sum of N30,000 in loan and interest.
“Am supposed to offset the loan in three years, that is November 2023. However, I have been finding it difficult to make the weekly payments owing to the absence of passengers.
“Apart from the loan, there are other payments like the mandatory 25% of all earnings I made to Uber, fuelling and maintenance of the vehicle and many other costs.
“My saving grace is that my wife is a trader and she make up what is left to pay every week. Government should come to our aid as the lingering fuel scarcity is killing our business”, lamented Segun Ilori.
Another ride hailing cabbie, this time with Bolt, Godspower Ebireri, begged Nigerians to come to his rescue as his bank has appointed a recovery agency to take over his car, despite having less than 11 months payments to make.
“Nigerians should come to my aid as I am about losing my source of livelihood. I got the vehicle I am using for ride hailing in January 2019, to be repaid fully in November 2023.
“Since the fuel crisis started in February, I have not been seeing fares to transport and have only paid once. I got a call from a person last week who claimed his firm had been engaged by the microfinance bank that funded the purchase of my vehicle to recover it on the 10th of this month if I fail to offset all outstanding dues.
“How will I make payments if I don’t have passengers to carry? To even make more money to pay off the loan, I now beg the few passengers I get to pay me in cash in order to bypass the 20% I should be paying to Bolt for using their app.
“Even with that, I am still far behind schedule in meeting my weekly payments. Only a miracle from God will prevent me from losing my car”, Ebireri moaned.
Apart from the drivers who are daily losing revenue, ride hailing firm are also badly affected. The firms nirmally get between 20% -25% as commission from drivers and can only make money if the drivers who use their apps see passengers to ferry about.
The ride hailing firms are also been shortchanged by some of their drivers who collude with willing passengers to go offline in other to make more money. An official in one of the ride hailing firms confided in our correspondent that his company is aware of the underhand tactics employed by some of their drivers.
“We are working hard to stem this ugly situation. Any driver caught would be sanctioned”, the official warned.