In its bid to dominate the transport market, ride hailing company, Uber, has expanded its business in Nigeria with the successful launch of a trial boat service, UberBOAT in Lagos, the first in sub-Saharan Africa.
Uber first came into Nigeria with a ride-hailing service launched in Lagos, in July 2014. Two years later, it launched in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. In July 2019 Uber launched in Benin.
Uber’s latest initiative was launched in partnership with the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) and a Nigerian ferry services provider,Texas Connection Ferries Limited. With the launch, Nigeria became the fourth country where UberBOAT is operational. The three other countries are India, Egypt and Croatia.
However, rather than plunging headlong into the murky and unpredictable boat ride business like some local businessmen who later bemoaned their shortsightedness, the management of Uber Nigeria opted for a two-week pilot phase in Lagos from October 11 to October 25, 2019.
Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, while launching the ride, said his government was happy to partner with Uber as a means to reduce congestion on Lagos roads. Sanwo-Olu took the inaugural ride alongside Uber officials and other government officers.
At the end of the trial exercise, the company said that a team of experts is currently meeting to appraise the result and the sustainability of launching full operation soon.
According to Business Hallmark findings, the service was available only on weekdays to and from Ikorodu and Falomo at a flat rate of ₦500 per trip during the trial period. The company also gave 50% discounts on car rides to the two jetty.
However, unlike Uber ride that could be booked instantaneously, Lagosians that patronised the firm were asked to reserve their seats on UberBOAT 24 hours ahead of time. Some of the passengers who spoke with our Correspondent said they booked their trips before heading to the jetties via https://ubr.to/2OEeB5l.
BH however observed that cash was also accepted at the Uber Boatstand at the ferry terminals. It is not clear however, if the price would increase after the testing phase or if it would remain so. Though many passengers said they won’t mind paying more aslong as they spend less time on their way to and from work.
BH also observed that two boats, with the capacity to convey 35 people, completed four trips each daily from the Ikorodu Ferry Terminal on the mainland and Five Cowries Terminal on the
island throughout the pilot phase.
Uber Boat launched on one of the most demanding routes for commuters in Lagos. The journey starts at the Five Cowries Terminal in Falomo on the Island and ends at the Ikorodu Ferry Terminal at Dangote in Ikorodu. During BH’s visits to the Cowries and Ikorodu Terminals, crowd turnout was impressive as Uber’s section of the terminals were buzzing
The Uber stand at Falomo in Ikoyi is ubiquitous and un-mistakable, with at least to representatives always on standby to welcome passengers. Like in airplanes, technical staffs were on hand to take passengers through safety caution tips while on board. Also on board are at least two lifeguards asides the captain.
It was observed that most of the passengers were working class men and women in corporate suites, briefcases and hand bags. All the journeys took approximately 35 minutes as promised by the management.
While the future looks bright for UberBoat, BH investigations revealed that the company may be in for a little rough ride. For example, Gboat, owned by a major competitor, Gokada, has a first comer advantage in the water transportation industry. Gboat is a joint venture between Lagos Boats, established in June 2018, and Gokada.
However, the two firms have no cause to worry for now. Gboat plies the Island (Lekki, Victoria Island and Ikoyi waterways at ₦200 per trip), UberBOAT restricted it trips to only Falomo to Ikorodu, and from Ikorodu back to Falomo. As it stands, the final destination of UberBOAT is Falomo, Ikoyi, which means people heading to Lekki can continue their cruise with Gboat. Moreover, Uber is still testing the waters with UberBOAT—there is a possibility of discontinuation if its management decided to abort the operation.
The real battle is expected to start when the two decide to play in each other terrain.Also, Uber’s operations could be hampered by the water transportation powerful union, the National Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Waters Transporters. The union operates like the ubiquitous National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW).
It was learnt that operators are forced to pay unexplainable dues on a daily basis, with uncooperative members mostly meeting with untimely deaths through mysterious drowning in calm waters.
However, some operators who spoke with our Correspondent noted that the involvement of LASWA should shieldUberBOAT from any shenanigans of the National Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Waters Transporters.
“They (Uber) must continue to carry LASWA along if it wants to survive in the water transport industry. Without the shield and support of LASWA, the company is dead on arrival. They are no match to the dreaded water union. Except they are ready to play balls”, the operator said.
Some passengers also complained that the routes were discriminating as they only favoured
passengers in Ikoyi-Ikorodu, arguing that majority of the people who work in Victoria
Island would be cut off from the service unless things change when normal operation begins..
Some of the passengers also raised a major concern, timing. They are argued that the departure time of 5pm is too early because a lot of people close by 5pm and will need the
service by 5.30 or 6pm. They suggested that the departure time be moved an hour, from 5pm to 6pm or 6.15pm so that those coming from as far as Victoria Island could meet up.
BH findings revealed that it is not all doom for Uber in its quest to compete in the water transport industry. According to a water transport expert, Engineer Bode Peters of Marine World, the decision on the Ikorodu route is a very big plus for Uber.
“As we all know, Ikorodu roads are known for their attendant traffic congestion. Several residents, especially those in white collar jobs, will definitely embrace the alternative of aUber boat ride to being trapped in debilitating traffic jams”, Peter said. .
“We are aware of the man hours and productivity that are lost every day due to vehicular traffic in Lagos state and are looking at ways to provide commuters with an easy and affordable way to get in and out of the city’s business districts,” Lola Kassim, Uber’s General Manager for West Africa told BH.
Attempts to get confirmation from UberBoat on whether the firm would adopt the ride-hailing model and allow private ferry owners ferry passengers on it platform failed, as the firm insisted that a yes or no answer would be hasty as an appraisal of the two-week trial operation is still ongoing.