Livelihoods under threat as revolution takes over transportation sector

Traditional taxi drivers are now finding it difficult to keep up with Uber, Bolt and other ride-hailing services.

The emergence of car-hailing services might provide comfort for passengers, but it's presented a significant challenge for traditional taxi drivers (image used for illustrative purpose) [Channels TV]

Three of his kids are in primary school, while two others are in secondary school.

Until recently, Gbenro was able to fulfill his responsibilities by providing for the basic needs of his family. But now, performing those tasks has become challenging for him.

In what appears to be a similar life challenge, Seun Akintunde can’t fend for his family like he used to.

In fact, his wife left him about a year ago as a result of his inability to cater for the family. Akintunde didn't bother to even fight for the custody of his child simply because he has become financially powerless.

These are the dire situations which most traditional taxi drivers are experiencing across the country.

Uber, Bolt (formerly Taxify), and other ride-hailing services may have only been around in Nigeria for a few years, but their existence is having a negative effect, arguably, on the old order of the transportation sector.

Taxi drivers are now unable to maintain the standards of living they were once accustomed to.

Our correspondent who spoke with the drivers learnt that they are finding it difficult to survive the tech revolution that has taken over the sector.

A few years ago, the most typical forms of public transport in Nigeria included the traditional taxis. They were a common sight in cities, driving individual passengers to their various destinations.

Never did the drivers expect that their means of livelihood would be threatened soon by a revolution in their industry, a revolution that started in 2014 when Uber was launched in the country. The situation worsened in 2016 when Bolt (which started as 'Taxify') joined.

It is on record that most of the ride-hailing startups in the country began in Lagos. This is because of the growing population and rapid development of the state, a situation that has since placed a huge strain on its public transportation system, and worsened its struggles with traffic congestion.

The industry has since been attracting different ride-hailing startups: from car-hailing to bike-hailing startups. Bus-hailing startups are also imminent, an innovation many local bus drivers aren’t prepared for.

Competition among existing services stiffens every day, as the transportation sector keeps attracting startups that are jostling for a similar market share; thereby edging out traditional means of transportation, such as the yellow taxis in Lagos.

Gbenro said he made an average of N20,000 daily from his taxi business only a few years ago, but not anymore. Now, if he makes N5,000 in a day, it is by luck because many have abandoned the local taxis for the likes of Uber and Bolt.

He further stated that, unlike before when he drove around to seek customers, he now prefers to stay in a garage to conserve fuel.

"People only patronise us on specific occasions, maybe when they have special outings, or they have loads that Uber drivers would not allow in their cars. That’s when they patronise us."

In view of the rising number of startups in the transportation sector, it is not only the drivers that are being threatened.

Pulse understands that with the introduction of bus-hailing services in the country, the public bus conductors are threatened alongside members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), a union which collects tax from drivers in the transportation sector.

Should public bus drivers resort to working for the bus-hailing startups, a decline of profit in their business would creep in, and the NURTW members particularly may resort to illegal means to survive, as a large percentage of them at bus stops have no formal education, neither are they skilled.

While some of the bus conductors may adjust to the development by becoming bus assistants, others may revolt against it and become violent at the sight of any bus-hailing ride, although, officially, the NURTW stands against such actions.

Some months ago, NURTW members were filmed harassing a Gokada rider, insisting that he pay a tax for picking up a passenger at a bus stop in Lagos.

Since it looks like ride-hailing services are here to stay, despite some challenges, taxi drivers have resigned themselves to fate.

And as the existing competition in the transportation industry stiffens, things can only get worse.

This leaves traditional taxi drivers with very limited options: keep fighting or jump ship.

Whatever choice they make presents its own set of peculiar challenges, but they need to make one that keeps them fed.

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