After its rapid expansion in the countries of the global North, Asia and America, Africa has become the new El Dorado for chauffeur-driven car hire (VTC) companies. Increasingly large cities with enormous mobility problems, an emerging middle class, an almost virgin market until just five years ago and high unemployment rates, which motivates drivers to join this sector, are compelling reasons that have driven companies like Uber, Bolt, Yango or Heetch to gradually establish themselves in Africa.

One of the most important characteristics is its adaptation to local reality, which ranges from the use of motorcycles, tuk tuks and even boats to overcome traffic problems in large crowds, to training drivers in new technologies.

Last May, the global giant Uber reached the milestone of one billion trips made on the African continent. Since setting foot in Johannesburg, the most populous city in South Africa with some six million inhabitants, a decade ago, the American company has been gaining ground in Africa to establish itself in eight countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda , Ivory Coast and the aforementioned South Africa. But Uber is not the only one nor the most important. The Estonian company Bolt, with its Taxify app, is not only present in six of these eight countries, in addition to Tunisia, but in several of them it has managed to outperform Uber thanks to very competitive rates.

Senegal is a clear example of the strength of the sector. Just three years ago it was difficult to find a trace of VTC companies in Dakar, the country’s capital, and this type of transport was limited to local initiatives that did not use mobile phone applications. However, today at least a dozen national and foreign companies compete for a growing clientele. “The potential is enormous”, says Aicha Niang, director of Yango in Senegal, “more and more the user demands convenience, comfort, punctuality and a quality service. We were installed in December of last year and we are already market leaders”.

Yango is present in ten countries, the Ivory Coast, which was the first for this Russian company, Cameroon, Ghana, Zambia, Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Mozambique, Algeria and the aforementioned Senegal. “We have opened most of them in the last year,” Niang clarifies, which gives an idea of ​​the growth in demand and the constant search for new business niches by companies. But things are not always easy. “In Dakar the taxi sector is very traditional, many drivers are not used to new technologies and there was some resistance. We invested in their training and now they are happy because they earn more than before. In addition, we are contributing to the renovation of the taxi park, ”he adds.

Lagos is already among the 20 largest cities in the world. The latest estimates point to more than 20 million inhabitants between its dynamic urban center and its vast suburbs. There the traffic jams are legendary. To try to combat this problem and taking advantage of the existence of navigable channels, Uber launched its Ubearboat modality in 2019 with the use of boats to transport passengers. This is an example of how VTC companies adapt to the local reality. For large urban agglomerations, several companies have also introduced motorcycles and even the popular tuk tuk or Indian motorcycles.

Maimouna Diallo runs a gift and souvenir shop for tourists in the Plateau district of central Dakar. Until three months ago she took a taxi every day to go to and from her business, but since then she has been a regular user of Yango. “I value safety and comfort above all. With your mobile you get a taxi very quickly and without leaving home, you do not have to wait standing in any street. The prices are agreed in advance, you save arguments with the drivers and then if you forget something in the car it is easy to recover it”, says Diallo. “Everyone wins, drivers get more customers and save gasoline, they don’t have to be driving all day. And users avoid waiting for the sun and feel safe”, adds Aicha Niang.

The lack of a specific regulation in most of the African countries allows these new actors in the transport of people to move freely. The companies defend that they are mere intermediaries that connect users with drivers and that everything is legal. In fact, the sector works more and more in coordination with the authorities. However, sometimes problems arise. An example is the French Heetch, another company that is growing in Africa, present in Morocco, Algeria and more recently in Senegal and the Ivory Coast. It had to withdraw from the latter country in 2019 at the request of the Ministry of Transport, which declared the rental of motorcycle taxis illegal, but last May they returned to their activity after overcoming said resistance.

“We have built our company from the ground up. We have invested a lot of time and resources in finding drivers who have the right treatment, in convincing them of the advantages of belonging to our platform, in training them. When we settled down they realized the advantages and now more and more candidates come to us. We have also relied on companies that already existed, that gives us confidence. At the beginning our prices were even cheaper than the usual ones for taxis, but now we have had to increase them and they are balanced, they are those of the market”, concludes Niang. The challenge now for these companies is no longer to open the market, but to compete with the companies that are arriving.

Previous articleElx, the city hidden in the largest palm grove in Europe
Next articleTop 10 cities in Europe for a City Break