One of the good things about living long is that you get to see things evolve either for better or for worse.
If it’s good, you relish it. If not, you boo it. As simple as that.
By the grace of God I have been around for over five decades. Hence, I have witnessed the evolution of many aspects of our life as a nation- The good, the bad and the ugly. One part of our economic life whose changing scenes I have witnessed with extreme interest is the transport sector.
As I have indicated here before, I lived through the days of Omni Bus Services Authority (OSA), City Line, Green Line and King of Kings Bus services. I also saw the rise and fall of the Aayalolo Bus Rapid Transit System. As for Metro Mass Transit, it has become intercity shuttle.
I also witnessed the introduction of ‘Charter’ and ‘Dropping’ into our Taxi hailing lexicon and the gradual shift from station-to-station based ‘trotro’ rides to the roaming kind.
The advent of Uber, Bolt et al
The latest feature in our transport sector is the online ride hailing service pioneered in Ghana by Uber. Subsequently, variants such as Bolt, Yango, Ehyen and Dropyn have entered the fray.
In the process, the profitability of this venture has been whittled away by the sheer numbers of vehicles available. Many unemployed youth and other professionals who do so on part-time basis, have signed on to the respective apps for the service. Thus, I have heard many of the drivers complain of business being slow these days. “You can park for an hour without a ride”, some lament.
This challenge has been compounded by the commission charged by the owners of the app. Uber recently announced it has reduced commission to 20%. Bolt’s charge is still 25% commission. Meanwhile, Yango has decided to play smart by offering cheaper rates to riders and higher earnings to drivers.
And these are mostly foreign-owned companies. According to Wikipedia, “Uber Technologies, Inc. is an American mobility service provider, allowing users to book a car and driver to transport them in a way similar to a taxi. It is based in San Francisco with operations in approximately 72 countries and 10,500 cities in 2021.”
Information on Bolt’s website says, “Bolt is the first European mobility super-app. We are fighting for better cities and against private cars, offering a better alternative to every purpose a private car serves.”
“Yango is a Russian ride-hailing, delivery and e-grocery service operating in Europe, Africa, Middle East and South America and available via a mobile app. It is owned by the Russian internet company Yandex.” – Wikipedia.
“Ehyen Transport Limited is a Ghanaian-owned transport company that offers transport solutions to our customers. We offer ride-hailing and fleet management solutions”- LinkedIn.
“Dropyn is the new ride hailing service from a wholly-owned Ghanaian team” – www.technovagh.com
Our taste for foreign stuff
There is no gainsaying the fact the Ghanaians love things that are foreign. From Italian shoes to German cars, we adore foreign stuff. Needless to add that anything American is the preferred choice of many Ghanaian youth.
Some of our compatriots who sell secondhand clothes are willing to put their hands in fire to prove that even ‘home-used’ underwear are of much quality than those made in Ghana by the garments manufacturing companies in the Free zones enclave. Thus, the ‘obroni woawu’ are worth patronising over the locally made ones.
This obsession with foreign goods and services has found its way into the online ride hailing service.
Consequently, in spite of the entry of the Ghanaian-owned Ehyen and Dropyn, their share of the ride hailing market is nothing to write home about. Bolt, Yango and Uber still dominate the market because we don’t patronize our own. I have heard some say that when you order a ride from the local ones, it takes forever to arrive.
The resultant effect is that drivers of ride-hailing services including; Uber, Bolt and Yango have been threatening to embark on a national strike. The drivers attribute their intended action to growing insecurity and attack on drivers as well as high service charges by the ride hailing companies.
My reflex reaction to this announcement was, 'who cares? Who will go hungry?' However, after listening to their case, I came to the conclusion that although the threat may be similar to the last kicks of a dying horse (useless), their issue is worth looking into.
In an interview with JoyNews, President of the Ghana Online Drivers Union, Francis Kweku Tenge, said “The main reason we are striking is that the 25% [of commission] from Bolt and Uber is too much. It should be slashed to 15 per cent. With cost of fuel, data and calls, at the end of the day, the driver is left with nothing,” he lamented.
“Moreover, we don’t know where the riders are going. Anytime there’s a request that come to the drivers, we only get to the destination, we start the trip before we know where they are going and it is unfair. How can I go and pick someone, first of all, that I don’t know, and I’m taking the person to where I don’t know? At least, as a driver, I should be able to see where I am going, if I don’t like it, then I decline” Francis Tenge added.
By the way, the default name for all ride hailing services is Uber. That’s because, as noted earlier, it was the first to hit the market. Just like all newspapers are called Graphic and all hospitals/clinics are referred to as Korle-Bu. You hear someone telling a friend he will arrive with Uber, yet the car that picks him up has Bolt boldly written on it.
The Agenda is set
Agenda-setting in public policy making refers to the ability (of the news media) to influence the importance placed on public issues by policy makers. Since many other news outlets, besides JoyNews, also reported on this issue, in my considered opinion, the Agenda for public policy must have been set.
According to Zig Ziglar, “the first step to solving a problem is to recognize that it exists.” Why no regulatory body has responded to the cry of these drivers therefore beats my imagination. Does it mean that the powers that be do not consider the plight of these drivers a problem?
As stated earlier, it is worthy of note that in the absence of the required number of jobs to be provided by the Youth Employment Agency (YEA) and funding for the YouStart programme not being ready, coupled with the end of the Nation Builders Corp (NABCo) programme, many young men, including university graduates, some with Master’s degrees, have resorted to the ride hailing business for succour. If for nothing at all, it enables them keep body and soul together.
But the exorbitant commission charged by the owners of the apps dwindles all the gains they make driving under the scorching sun and sometimes throughout the night. You call it modern slavery and you will not be far from right. Why? Because charging 20 to 25 percent on every amount made by a driver for using an app that has already been developed is, to say the least, cheating.
They don’t care about how much you spend on fuel, data and calls to client for pick up details. The fares charged also leave so much to be desired. Can you imagine paying GHC10.00 from University of Ghana campus to Osu Oxford Street? Only on Yango.
I know about copyright and the need for the developers to eat from their toil. But if one considers the fact that the app will last forever, then it is only fair that the owners are made to reduce the commission to the barest minimum. For me, 10% is the only figure that can be justified.
Who will initiate the policy?
On the website of the Ministry of Transport, headed by Hon. Kwaku Ofori Asiamah, are its Goals and Functions. The second bullet under Goals is this, “Create an accessible, affordable, reliable, effective and efficient transport system that meets user needs.” Function number one is- Transport sector policy formulation and co-ordination.
I am therefore calling on Mr. Asiamah to, as a matter of urgency, convene a meeting of the relevant stakeholders and set the ball rolling.
YEA and the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations (MELR) can be brought on board to pool resources together for the development of an app for use by these drivers. The commission here can be as low as 5% for maintenance of the software. This is a call for the MELR to think outside the box.
The assistance of the National Information Technology Agency (NITA) will also be required. The reason is that from what I gathered, developing an app is not a child’s play. I thought I could contract someone to develop one so I venture into the business, only to realize that the requirements cost an arm and a leg:
1. Servers (main and redundant servers, disaster recovery systems) you can also buy space cloud on servers.
2. Electricity (Main grid and a standby).
3. Very strong and reliable internet connection.
4. Computer engineers
5. Software engineers
6. Network engineers
7. Operational cost
Clearly, this is nothing close to a walk in the park. But it is doable at the ministerial or inter-agency level. I know.
In the meantime, we have to put in a word to the owners of Bolt, Uber and Yango for the suffering Ghanaian drivers. Our brothers and sisters in Kenya and Tanzania have shown the way. All we need to do is to learn from them.
According to information on Tecg24.com, “Kenya’s National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) is set to enforce a regulation that caps commission for all ride-hailing companies in the country at 18%. Earlier this year, Tanzania’s Land Transport Regulatory Authority (LATRA), which regulates the taxi sector, restricted commissions earned by ride-hailing companies to a maximum of 15%.”
As noted earlier, we can demand 10% commission in view of our peculiar economic circumstances.
It’s time to go
The agenda items are well cut out; commission payable by users of the app that will be developed as a product of the new policy and a driver-friendly app- one that indicates where the passenger is headed, especially after 6:00pm.
The agency responsible for implementation could be the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority and the policy should prevent the foreign-owned apps from operating here altogether. Alternatively, we could make their services unattractive with our 5% commission. There should also be enough vehicles that will make it possible for rides ordered to arrive at passengers' door step within 5 minutes. Intensive public sensitization on the need to patronise this service cannot be overemphasised. By so doing, water will find its own level as regards the fate of the foreign-owned ride hailing services.
Let me add that ‘Ghana beyond aid’ can only be realized by plucking such low hanging fruits as a ride hailing app. Copying in academic institutions is a crime. However, in real life, not copying from those who are doing well should be equal to sin- my own creation.
If we are unable to innovate, replicating something that is already in existence too? Haba! Ghana!
We are in the birth month of our visionary first President, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. In commemoration of his 122nd birthday on September 21, 2022, let’s show the West that “the black man is capable of managing his own affairs.”
I pray the time spent on putting this piece together will not be in vain.
The Ministries, Departments and Agencies aforementioned should act now to avert any further incidences of booing at President Akufo-Addo. What I saw on TV was as unprecedented as it was an eyesore.
I rest my case.
Wadaean- That’s goodbye in Arabic
Let God Lead! Follow Him directly, not through any human.
The writer works at Myjoyonline.com. He is also the author of two books whose contents share knowledge on how anyone desirous of writing like him can do so. Eric can be reached via email firstname.lastname@example.org. The two books cost GHC80.00.
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