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How Opay is making intra-city transportation pleasant for commuters in A/Ibom

It is lunch time and many are in restaurants and canteens that dot the streets of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital. In reality, almost all streets have one form of restaurant or the other. From the popular Food is Ready’ joint to high brow canteens and restaurants, everybody has a place of his choice where he or she can relish delicious meals and delicacies that the city and its people are known for.

Okon Etim, decked in a black suit has finished his meal and is anxiously waiting to get back to his office. He reaches out to his mobile phone and dialed a number. Within few minutes, a tricycle pulls over.  He steps out of the restaurant and begins a conversation with the tricycle operator.

“Are you James?” he asked.  “Yes, I am?’’ he answered. Etim tells the tricycle operator his destination and in a jiffy, the journey begins.

This is an innovation in inner city transportation. It involves the use of mobile phones in making transportation easier and a pleasurable experience. The deployment of mobile phone for use by tricycle operators to convey commuters from one point to another in the city has taken roots in Uyo. Coming in the absence of a taxi scheme in town makes all the difference.

Etim is not the only commuter enjoying the innovative use of mobile phone in the transport sector. Hundreds of others including youth corps members, ladies, students, workers and those in need of an affordable means of transport are having a good time.

At a power distribution company located along two lanes in Uyo, an electricity consumer who has gone to settle her bill steps out of the office and a tricycle operator in a reflective apron pulls over. She jumps onto the tricycle popularly called ‘Keke’ and both are set to cruise to the commuter’s destination.

“It is an app,” explains one technology expert. “You download it into your phone and you are good to go with it.”

Recently, the advertisement for Opay has been everywhere with social media users, urging mobile phone owners to avail themselves of the new way of enjoying an easy ride.  It tells the commuter how much he or she is expected to pay.

In the absence of taxis in Uyo and with no designated bus stops, Keke is the only widely used means of transport. When commercial motorcyclists were banned few years ago due to their alleged involvement in inner city crimes like armed robbery and phone-snatching, the vacuum left by the ban was filled by ubiquitous tricycles which have become the face of intra city transport in the state.

Over the years, with the influx of people from the rural areas into Uyo, and with the growing unemployment rate among youths in which many have described as a time bomb waiting to explode, the transport sector seems to be the place to turn to by job seekers.

Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, is reputed to have a good network of roads within the city. Thanks to the efforts of the state government in investing in physical infrastructure in the last couple of years. That has seen the city transformed from a local government headquarters to a modern city. Many however, believe that much could still be done in turning the city with basic social amenities.

Presently, road construction is still ongoing. The sector has received the highest allocation in next year’s budget and one good thing is the completion of many roads including the 29 kilometre Etinan-Ndon Eyo road which links the state capital with the East West road. As a result of this, commuters heading to Port Harcourt in Rivers State now ply the new road that cuts through Etinan to Onna to the East West road.

With the absence of a mass transit scheme or a transport system funded by the state government, commuters are often left at the mercy of operators. The banning of the commercial cyclists in the city and now being extended to other major towns like Eket and Ikot Ekpene has worsened the plight of those in need of an affordable means of transportation.

The Opay innovative idea which seems to be a replica of Uber and taxify schemes that are available in other big cities across Nigeria looks to be a welcome development coming at a time commuters are confronted with many challenges, including economic crunch and high cost of living.

The beauty of the scheme is that the passengers have the option of riding alone in the tricycle or sitting conveniently with one other passenger he or she chooses to ride with. This has eliminated the clumsiness of passengers squeezing themselves together, a situation in which some gender activists found offensive and repugnant.

Though those using the Opay scheme are paying more in terms of transport fare, as it is often said that nothing good comes easy, the users appear to be happy for it and with no reported cases of passengers making attempts to overpower operators and snatch the tricycle away, it seems that it is a win-win situation for all the parties.

With the festive season around the corner, it is expected that the demand for Opay services would increase and while the operators would be smiling to banks, the commuters would be satisfied that they have been able to get to their destinations with ease and comfort.

Sad though that the idea of a government supported mass transit scheme appears light years ahead, technology as in case of Opay has made commuting within the city easier and a pleasant experience. Indeed, the coming of mobile phones has brought about smart ways of doing many things. From banking to e-commerce and to transportation, the benefits keep coming.

Thought Opay is also known to be available in other cities across the country, some involving commercial motorcyclists, and its presence in Uyo has turned the otherwise bitter experience of commuters into a pleasant and worthwhile encounter.

For Etim, who after having his launch, reached out to the tricycle operator that took him back to his office, without having to wait under the scotching sun for hours, the Opay scheme is turning intra-city transportation into an enjoyable experience and making it a smooth ride around town.

ANIEFIOK UDONQUAK 

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