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In July 2014, Uber commenced operations in Lagos, Nigeria, a city notorious for its horrendous traffic jams. Despite that, the disruptive company’s operations have boomed. At least that’s according to Uber Lagos general manager Ebi Atawodi (pictured above).
Within six months, said Atawodi, Uber has recorded exponential growth in Nigeria in terms of demand and supply. There has been 10-times growth in the company’s supply within six months, which also means there are 10 times more Uber drivers in Lagos than the company had six months ago. In terms of demand, a hundred-fold growth has been recorded within the same period.
Atawodi said this was due to the company’s strict adherence to top-quality service, safety, innovation and price transparency. She added the company was boosting the Nigerian economy by promoting job creation, creating more opportunities for drivers and making the roads in Lagos less congested.
“Our vision is to have fewer cars on Lagos roads,” Atawodi said. That’s a noble goal. With a population of well over 5-million people, the mega city is a leading contender for the worst traffic in the world.
Prior to the arrival of Uber, the general manager said taxi drivers in Lagos often had to drive along roads in search of passengers, burning costly fuel and wearing out their vehicles.
“What we are now telling them is to sit in their cars and customers will reach them. That way they will save fuel and prolong the lifespan of their vehicles,” she said.
Uber Lagos versus Uber Elsewhere
As a global company focused on ensuring top-quality services are provided in all its operating cities, Uber Lagos — according to its general manager — is striving to ensure that services offered in Lagos are similar to those offered in London, New York and elsewhere.
Atawodi said the company was achieving this, as evident in the observation that about 20% of Uber Lagos customers have used Uber services in other parts of the world.
To achieve this, the company is striving to uphold Uber’s global standards of reliability and transparency. Drivers are trained and must qualify before they are added to the system. Furthermore, the oldest car model allowed on Uber Lagos is pegged at 2008, and all cars must be insured.
Promoting Asset Sharing
Atawodi noted that Lagos is one of the world’s most rapidly growing cities, but its landmass is not expanding. She noted that individuals buying more cars would further worsen the city’s traffic situation. A solution, she said, is via asset-sharing.
When Uber rides are shared, more people will be transported per trip than expected and more revenue would accrue to the drivers. Today in Lagos, Uber customers have the option of splitting the transport fare with friends, but this is expected to further expand with the introduction of UberPool.
“UberPool is a car pooling service using our world-class technology. It will maximise car utilisation by seven times and dramatically reduce the number of cars on the road,” Atawodi said.
Uber’s on demand everything
Within the six months Uber has been operating in Nigeria, Atawodi revealed it’s also been involved in the global Uber on Demand culture, in which unique products and services — including personnel — are delivered via the Uber-backed service. Such services include delivery of kittens, ice cream, and helicopters.
“On Valentine’s Day, we also delivered hampers and cupcakes. I’m looking forward to a time when we can also deliver Gele [a popular type of Nigerian female fashion head gear],” she said.
She also announced that some companies in Nigeria were signing up with Uber for Business, a service that allows officials of an organisation to use Uber service while the registered corporate account takes care of the bill.
Surprise fraud record
Towards the tail end of our interactive session, the issue of customers enjoying rides without having sufficient money in their account to offset the bill was raised. However, Atawodi revealed the incidence of this is very low in Nigeria compared to other parts of the world. She also commended Nigerian banks, which she said were way ahead of those in other emerging markets.
“Lagos is surprising the world, payments are going through in Lagos and Nigerian banks are moved ahead of their counterparts in other emerging markets. They deserve to be commended,” she said.
When the session finally ended, I asked her about the impact Uber Nairobi could have on Uber’s operations in Lagos and other African countries, where more citizens rely on mobile money rather than credit cards. She admitted that there were discussions underway about the possibility of introducing mobile money in African cities but no decision has yet been made.
The general manager and other Uber reps said the company currently has a 10-minute average estimated time of arrival (ETA) in Lagos. Similarly, personal experience revealed Uber Lagos’ ETA varies from one part of the city to another. I requested a ride at Obalende and the driver’s ETA was about 15 minutes, but when I requested a ride from Federal Palace Hotel, the driver arrived around five minutes later.
“We are aiming to have an average ETA of less than three minutes and to achieve this we will be aiming to achieve exponential growth in supply,” Atawodi said.
But signing up more drivers isn’t the only step Uber needs to take to achieve the set goal and to remain successful in Nigeria. It also has to ensure customer experience is similar on all Uber rides — from simple touches, such as opening the door for the customer and inquiring about their choice of music or radio, to more serious issues such as preventing the occurrence of incidents such as the alleged passenger rape in India. Uber still has a long way to go. But it’s good to know the company knows this.