BusinessDay
NigeriaDecides2023

How Uber, Bolt, others help Nigerian drivers survive tough economy

From time immemorial, the need for people to move from one place to another has seen transportation evolving through different modes, and being one of those businesses that can’t quite go out of existence.

In modern days, taxis became a way for people to achieve better mobility. With technology, this has been taken a notch higher since ride hailing platforms got into the picture. Uber, Bolt, InDriver are some of the popular providers in Nigeria, and indigenous ones like the Lagos state backed Lagride have also come on board recently.

Colloquially, ride hailing services (in Nigeria) often get referred to as Uber, which appears to enjoy the early mover advantage by having its name used to describe the service in general. Due to the ongoing economic challenges in Nigeria (like in some other places), unpredictability and the difficulty in finding or keeping corporate jobs, a segment of the population are starting their own businesses.

One way this is playing out is the ride-hailing industry.

Different ride-hailing apps have emerged over the years, providing jobs for individuals. One of the most common, Uber, which came into existence in Nigeria in 2014, promises future self-employed drivers the opportunity to “make money when you want” through the match-making and technological capabilities of the app.

The driver chooses whether the job will be a full-time business or a side job. This compensates for daily costs and black tax that creep up against the monthly wage that can’t accommodate everything.

The platforms advantages, according to the drivers, go beyond economics: even with its drawbacks, they increase social cohesiveness and financial stability at a time when the economy is suffering the most

Temitope Akinyemi, a Bolt driver for 2 years, described the business as fantastic, sometimes sweet and sometimes terrible and that the condition in the country drove him to start the business as a side hustle. In his words, he ventured into it, “for a man to settle bills and different streams of income.”

“It is more for the vibrant youth that has a target and won’t wonder from it. It gave me an opportunity ever since I started it”, Akinyemi said.

After deducting all other expenses, such as the commission of 20 percent, fuel, and other expenses, he makes an average of N10,000 per day and about N100,000 per week. He works 17 hours a day and makes an average of 20 trips, but he prefers to stay late because, in his words, “working late attracts surge which translates to a higher price.” Through this method, he was able to save enough money to purchase a 2008 Honda using an instalment payment plan.

For another driver, a female, who prefers to be anonymous, she entered the industry to raise money while doing her business on the side.

Cenfri, a global think tank and non-profit enterprise stated in a report that the livelihood opportunity is for entrepreneurial youth. Most e-hailing drivers in the sample conducted were under the age of 35, suggesting this mode of work has been an attractive option to the youth in particular. This is primarily due to the promise of flexible work hours and low barriers to entry.

Olatayo Alabi, who is in his early fifties, has been an Uber driver for more than 5 years. He previously worked for someone else and decided to go into the business fully (on his own) after realising how profitable it was. Through it, he was able to purchase the car he is currently driving as well as acquire a land where he is building a property. After working between 10 and 12 hours every day, deducting commission and fuel costs, he sees an average earning of N60,000 weekly.

“I prefer Uber to my paid job because I can work whenever I want, finish whenever I want, and take rest days at home whenever I want,” Alabi said.

“After paying a 20 percent commission to Uber, spending N5,000-N7,000 on fuel daily, and maintaining the car, I still have an average of N 60,000 for the week,” Alabi added.

Adetola, who works as an Uber driver in Dubai, came back to Nigeria to continue the business, and said it is more profitable to do Uber business in Dubai but the laws and weather don’t sit well with him.

While in Nigeria before he travelled, he noted that he was an ATM technician, working as a contract staff for an unnamed bank for six years, with a monthly pay of N42,000 even after the organisation sponsored and trained him in South Africa. He had little or no spare time for himself, as he spends both weekdays and weekends at work.

As an Uber drive, he now earns the same N42,000 per week, while in his former job, that would come after working for 30 days.

“I’m at peace in this job, I start and close work when I want even on weekends, and there’s no fear of being laid off unlike in my previous job where I worked six years as a contract staff with no promotion in view and nothing to show for it,” he said.

Read also: Ride-hailing market sees stiff competition as affordability tops Nigerians’ preference

“Although the business is lucrative, it’s hard to make millions if it’s your only source of income, but good enough to keep body and soul together, because the higher you want to attain as a young person, the more the government and the situation of the country drag you back,” Adetola added.

Another driver on the Bolt platform who simply gave his name as Mobolaji noted he gets bonuses of N2000 for every eight trips done without cancellation.

Despite all the benefits of operating through a ride hailing platform, the drivers who obliged interviews decried the economic condition, hostility from riders, law officials, and even the app developers themselves.

“If you can work it full-time, the market is not that slow, and you can be sure to make some money. However, there are many drawbacks, particularly in Lagos where you have to deal with road safety agents like LASTMA, the police, and some irritating riders,” Mobolaji said.

“When you book a ride, you either book two stops to indicate that you are dropping something somewhere, but most riders don’t do this because they want to take advantage of the rider. This is similar to someone booking a ride to go to a destination and later telling me to branch to another place because you want to drop something, which is not meant to be the case,” Mobolaji added.

For Akinyemi, he dislikes the fact that several passengers regard him as illiterate and presume that Uber drivers are people who are less lucky and whose only option was driving, despite being an engineer by profession with more than five years of experience in the corporate world. Other forms of negative experiences abound.

“After requesting N2000 to buy anything along the route with the promise to send it together with the t-fare, the rider apparently dumped him by sending him a false alert, “Tayo, another Bolt driver said.

Mobolaji also recalls picking a rider from Surelere who was going to Ikeja, but because of the traffic, the female passenger asked him to take a longer route, making her fare go up from N1,800 to N2,800.

“She lied about my taking a different route without using Google Maps in an email to the app developer, saying she was going to put the initial fee. This caused a strike, and in some cases, if a driver receives up to five complaints, the driver may face a one-month to a one-year driving ban,” Mobolaji said.

In most cases, the ride hailing platforms listen more to the rider than the driver because they believe in customer satisfaction and constantly tell their drivers to do so. The platforms advantages, according to the drivers, go beyond economics: even with its drawbacks, they increase social cohesiveness and financial stability at a time when the economy is suffering the most.

“I make N120,000 weekly and a little over N400,000 monthly. I used to be a salesman for a car dealer shop in Ikoyi but resigned to start this business. It’s been great so far, I use three cars, and I sometimes use the uber lite with my more exotic car,” Lekan, an Uber driver said.

For Sola, an Uber driver with a 4-star rating, and who also drives on Bolt, “On a bad day, I make N15,000, if I’m able to save 10k out of it, I make 70k weekly.” In over a year of using the platform, he reports making about N2.8 million. “I work Monday to Friday, even Saturdays and Sundays,” he said.