Tugende was prominently mentioned in a feature article about the motorcycle taxi industry in today’s Daily Monitor. This follows an earlier profile of the company (as Own Your Own Boda) in 2011. In today’s story, we got to weigh in on the challenges and opportunities, and how motorcycles are a logical response for drivers and customers to Kampala’s crazy roads and potholes.
Here’s (edit: now former) managing director Medie talking about the huge increase in riders:
Medie Sebi Ssuna was a motorcycle mechanic who used to earn around Shs70,000 per week, but in 2001, he discovered that he could make more money by riding the bodas he used to repair. Now, he has been in the industry for more than a decade and he is the Managing Director of Tugende LLC, a business that gives loans to drivers so that they can own their own motorcycles.
According to Ssuna, the industry has changed a lot in the past decade and greater competition has affected drivers’ profits. “You cannot make as much money as we used to make in 2001,” he says, “But at least no one goes home without anything. Although the riders are many, the passengers are more because of the traffic jam. It is very possible to support a family by being a boda boda rider.”
Here I am discussing the lax enforcement of legal requirements of riders (Tugende makes sure its drivers are experienced and law-abiding).
New riders flock to the industry because it is profitable and relatively easy to enter. To operate legally, boda riders need a driver’s permit, third-party insurance, a Passenger Service Vehicle license (PSV), and a stage so that they can register with the Boda Boda 2010 Association.
But in reality, many drivers enter the market without the required documentation and Thomson estimates that 30 to 40 per cent of drivers in Kampala are not registered with a stage. “You don’t necessarily need anything [to get started] because there is no enforcement,” Wilkerson says. “A lot of guys will just show up one day and start riding a motorcycle. I think that’s the cause of a lot of dangerous driving and bad behaviour.”
And here I am again explaining why motorcycles are a symptom, not a cause of crazy traffic and bad roads.
“When there isn’t heavy traffic jam, the fact that cars have to come to a near complete stop to navigate a disastrous pothole on a main road means that there is a ripple effect that slows down everything and creates a traffic jam when it’s not congested. The motorcycle can just go around and pass cars,” Wilkerson says.
“If motorcycles are ever going to be a less significant part of transportation in Kampala, there will have to be better and bigger roads and a credible alternative for public transportation.”
Last, I really hope we are helping people get a step up to something beyond driving a motorcycle for their entire life.
As passengers are forced to use boda bodas because of a lack of quick and convenient alternatives, many drivers also join the industry because they do not have other options.
Many riders are able to save money and exit the precarious boda industry, but for others, the process is slow. “Riding a motorcycle can be fun for a while, but no one really wants to be doing this for years and years and years,” Wilkerson explained. “All of our drivers have something they’re aiming for as a next step.”
For tens of thousands, the boda boda business could be a ticket to achieving their dreams, but it is also a difficult and dangerous occupation.
For us, ownership is that first step.
(Photo courtesy of the Daily Monitor).