The taxi renewal agenda in Lagos state is like an ogbanje spirit. It never stays long enough to live out its purpose, but it keeps finding its way back to us. 

Let me explain

For years, the Lagos state government has been determined to phase out yellow taxis, particularly the unlicensed drivers. In 2009, Governor Fashola — unaware of his future role as Sherlock — commissioned over 1,000 taxi cabs and four cab hire service schemes. In 2011, 250 taxis were added to the fleet and re-branded as “Mega Taxis” in 2015

It keeps going

With Uber and Bolt taking over the transport scene, the government had to pretend to be wise. As the saying goes, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” In 2020, Lagos partnered with EkoCabs — a ride-hailing company — to compete in the digital transportation market. 

Funny thing, the same yellow taxis the Fashola government tried to phase out were meant to be incorporated into the platform. A few months after the partnership was announced, the yellow taxis were rumoured to be in an entanglement with another ride-hailing company called UNIVASA

Talk about a scorned lover. 

The details on the triangle between Lagos, EkoCab and UNIVASA are unclear and nothing has been heard about it since 2020

Back to 2022

Now, Governor Sanwo-Olu — resident chess player/coach — has commissioned the launch of a new ride-hailing app, Lagos Ride. It’s nearly the same as Fashola’s injection of cars, but with a sprinkle of technology. 

With the same promise to revamp the transportation system, 1000 new vehicles have been added to the congested streets of Lagos. Yay us!

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So Lagos is trying to build the next Bolt?

The government has clarified that Lagos Ride is not in competition with Bolt or Uber.

Who are we to question that? 

So what makes them different? Here are three main things:

1. Lease-to-own initiative for drivers

First, Lagos Ride is described as an empowerment scheme for the unemployed masses. While it’s designed to phase out the rickety yellow taxis and inevitably leave the drivers unemployed, Lagos Ride compensates the drivers with an opportunity to own a brand new car. In how long? Three to four years.

But for how much?

Well, these new cars supplied by CIG Motors Company Limited

, a Chinese car manufacturing company, start at $26,000 (approximately ₦10 million) and an initial deposit of ₦1.9 million is required to access the cars. On one hand, there’s an opportunity to own a new car. But in an economy where the inflation rate makes the minimum wage useless, do the “unemployed” have the ₦1.9 million the government is asking for?

Also, if the target market can’t afford the new cars, how are the rickety yellow taxis phased out? These are the questions that haven’t been answered yet.

2. There’s money on the table

In 2020, Lagos and the car suppliers of Lagos Ride entered into a joint venture partnership. The partnership allows the company to establish an assembly plant in Lagos, to ensure ease of access for car maintenance. 

A tweet from the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the Governor of Lagos State on New Media, Jubril Gawat.

Between fuel scarcity and the constant traffic in Lagos, why is this sensible to the government? One factor may be the promise to train 50 students in an engineering vocational program. Another reason may be the opportunity to export the cars or sell to Nigerians. There’s money to be made and the government is in the driver’s seat. 

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3. Security features

Lagos Ride is set up with features like a security system on the dashboard. Also, all cars are uniformly painted and branded with a unique identification number. With the security issues reported from Bolt riders and drivers, this may be a plus for Lagos Ride.

Uncle Sanwo-Olu in his new baby

There are many questions about the scheme that can only be answered as things evolve. For now, one question with an immediate answer is: what do Lagosians think of this government version of Bolt? 

1. “Our government needs to focus on finishing one thing first”

— Tunde*, 40, University lecturer and transport expert

A taxi service cannot be the backbone of a city with over 10 million people. Even with the affordable options such as the train and BRTs, people are still hopping on danfos and bikes to commute, how can Lagos Ride compete? Let’s not forget that there are so many ride-hailing services with cars already on the road and Lagosians can stop in the middle of traffic to fly bikes. Lagos Ride can only work if the government wants to monopolise the market.

2. “It’s government-owned, so I’ll feel safe”

— Oyinlola, 25, banker

I like the idea of a government-owned taxi. I’ve been harassed by a driver on one of the platforms and a number of my friends have been through the same thing. I sent several emails complaining about the driver and I never got any feedback. Now, I use a bus or beg a friend to drop me off. I’m not sure how the customer service on Lagos Ride will be, but at least now, there’ll be an office to go and complain physically.

3. “As long as it’s cheap, I don’t care”

— Fiona*, 23, university student

I’m here for the cheapest option. I have like four taxi apps on my phone. Whichever one is cheaper when I need to get to work is what I use. So for Lagos Ride, it’s the same approach I’ll take.

4. “It needs to have special benefits that cut Lagos traffic”

— Prince, 28, data analyst

Lagos Ride will make sense if they have access to the BRT lane. That means I don’t have to worry about LASTMA when I’m trying to cut traffic. Also, it has to be as cheap as the danfo I take to work. Now that transport fares have increased, I pay ₦700 from Palmgrove to Ikeja. Lagos Ride should be able to maintain the price or go lower. It won’t make sense if it’s owned by the government and expensive.

5. “The government should focus on collecting tax from Uber and Bolt”

— Chika*, 45, development consultant

I think it’s a waste of funds. Government has no business partnering with a Chinese company on anything besides road infrastructure and the mass rail transit they’re building. How many projects can they do at the same time? All the roads are dug up in the name of construction. Let’s face one first. 

If it’s a money thing, they should focus on taxing Uber and Bolt. There’s no need for 1000 cars on Lagos roads. Abeg.

6. “More cars are unnecessary in Lagos”

— Linda, 30, climate change activist

It sounds unnecessary, but have you seen the smoke in Lagos? The combustion from vehicles? I understand that the taxis consume less fuel, but there are still more cars. What’s the point of working on a policy for non-motorised transport if the end goal is more cars? Let’s think about the climate for once.

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