Since the advent of ride-hailing apps in Nigeria in 2014, hundreds of Nigerians have taken to it, not only using it to grow their businesses but to also create jobs for themselves.
Before the apps, transportation was not always easy to come by. Passengers had to flag down cabs on the road or go to the nearest taxi park to get a car. These apps brought the drivers to the passengers, bridging that gap and controlling fares to an extent. Because of the success of Uber and Bolt in major cities like Lagos and Abuja, there are now over ten other ride-hailing services operating in Nigeria.
While these apps have been beneficial to passengers and drivers alike, they do have their disadvantages. Passengers have lamented online about not being safe sometimes or dealing with violent drivers, while drivers have voiced their concerns on social media and the various apps about fraudulent trips and equally violent passengers.
Meet “the Lagos lady taxi driver”
In the face of the numerous challenges, Nairametrics had a chat with a woman who drove for Uber and Bolt for several years. Even though Uber and Bolt created a good opportunity then, Ugochi Selina Nwobodo had to leave for a number of reasons. Even though the apps advertised to potential drivers that they could work on their own time, it has incentives to make drivers work for longer before receiving a better cut of the ride fare. Now she only does private trips and advertises on Facebook. Ms. Ugochi who also goes by the alias, “the Lagos lady taxi driver” was able to carve out a niche and build a client base of customers who want quality service from a familiar person.
“When I started, I also made sure to advertise so that I didn’t have to rely solely on the clients I had gotten through Uber, and that attracted a number of well-meaning Nigerians. I recall a time when LASTMA officers seized my car and I posted about it on Facebook. Someone in Port Harcourt saw that post and made a call to someone in Lagos, resulting in my car being released free of charge,” Ugochi recounts.
Things weren’t always very easy. After a sexual harassment case one month into working, she didn’t want to do it anymore. There are hardly any systems set up for keeping women safe (drivers and passengers alike) when they use ride-hailing apps. She recalls that she didn’t work for two days, but she had to remind herself why she started on this route. To provide for herself and her family – most importantly, her daughter.
“There was also a time when my car broke down and I wished I didn’t drive professionally. When the main tool of anyone’s profession is out of commission, it takes a toll on the person’s livelihood,” Ugochi said.
When friends and family heard about her driving, they didn’t approve or encourage her. “It is strenuous and difficult” are some lines she heard often. That and “a woman like you shouldn’t do it”, but she didn’t pay attention to them. People who laughed or made comments now solicit her services. What mattered was that she was able to provide for herself and her daughter, and even send money to her mother and grandparents.
Ms. Ugochi makes sure to leave home at 7:30 or 9am and to always get back by 6:30pm. She felt the rigid time she set for herself not only kept her safe but also provided structure. She also took Mondays off to run errands and rest so as to avoid breaking down.
“But that wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t used the Uber platform for years. I got the clients and was able to build a level of trust that is still there,” she said.
Besides the pay, she also had to worry about the wear and tear on her car. Another downside was that, with Uber, she didn’t always know where the client wanted to go, but with Bolt, drivers were notified. Even though they might be different after picking up the rider. With the ride-hailing apps, she often had to go to rough areas that damaged the vehicle, especially during the rainy season. Drivers are also penalised for cancelling a trip after a certain number.
Another factor that made her privatise her service was the people she met while driving. It was a coin toss on whether or not she got a rider that was pleasant and respectful or someone that would make discriminatory comments or even try to get physical.
“You get to meet all sorts of human beings and the worst challenge was fake transaction alerts. You could pick someone up and take them on a trip, then at the end, they show you a transaction alert on their phone that doesn’t come to you after waiting. At least with Uber, you could get part of the money back sometimes, but nothing from Bolt,” she lamented.
As a lady, she also had to worry about sexual harassment and her life being at risk when the trip destination is a remote area or when it got late.
Earnings with the apps also worked like any entrepreneurial business.
Ugochi said, “It depends on how many hours you put in. On a good day, you can make up to N15,000 a day, and on a bad day it can be only N1,750. Now, I can set my own prices and go where I am comfortable. From the transport job, I am able to feed well, clothe, and pay rent so it is something to not be ashamed of.”
In the end, when asked about why she started out, it had to do with ‘dignity of labour’. She, just like the hundreds of Nigerian men and women who drive with ride-hailing apps, wants to earn money in an honest and respectable way. This can be hard when so many things almost seem to work against them. Ms. Ugochi said another major challenge that she has dealt with was bad mechanics. While it is an issue everyone faces, because she is a woman, the chances of mechanics trying to take advantage of that and rip her off are higher.
Advice to women
She encourages any woman that is considering it to do it. It is a sure means of weekly income that enables women to be independent. If they are professional and disciplined and set out a time, they can make an honest living out of it.
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