Ricky Rapa Thomson is the co-founder and the executive director of SafeBoda, an ‘Uber’ for motorcycles based in Kampala. He spoke to The Independent’s Agnes E Nantaba about efforts to transform the transport system in the country’s major towns.
What are the key elements in your management style as a manager?
As a manager, my primary objective is to ensure that all players observe rules and regulations and also value the vision of SafeBoda.
What is your assessment of the performance of the transport system especially in Kampala?
The industry is mainly informal but presents several opportunities to the population. For instance, our study shows that boda bodas (motorcycle taxis) make between Shs800, 000 to Shs1.3million a month yet most of them are not graduates. It is thus a big sector that deserves some kind of attention. That is why SafeBoda has come to provide some sort of solution by bringing most boda boda riders together under one platform.
WHO statistics project that by 2030 road accidents will match HIV/AIDS in terms of the number of annual fatalities in low income countries; how is SafeBoda working to solve this?
The reason for high rates of accidents is because riders/drivers do not get any formal training on safe road usage, protection of self and passengers. Our strategy is therefore to empower them through trainings, enabling them understand the magnitude of the problem and how they can help solve it.
At the moment, we provide riders on our platform with top quality equipment for their safety and at that of their passengers. Statistics indicate that having a good quality helmet reduces the risk of severe injury by around 40% and risk of death by around 70% because most accidents get severe due to not wearing a helmet. We are also empowering them to respect other road users and pass on the message to other people. With all these done, we hope to realise some change in the reducing accidents.
You recently unveiled SafeBoda ride credit. How does the program work?
This program works in a way that SafeBoda users can now pay for their ride using mobile money. One only need to simply access SafeBoda app, tap on the payment option and select add credit and just add money to your SafeBoda account. This is consumed within the SafeBoda platform and it’s free of transaction costs. The main purpose of the programme is to save riders/passengers from looking for change every time they want to pay for their ride. However, this does not mean that we are phasing out cash payment. The two payment options will be still available for the passengers.
Take us through the installation and activation of the SafeBoda app?
Download the app from the apple stores at no cost, register with your phone number and get verified. With that, you are ready to go. All you need is to type in where you are and your final destination to get an estimate of the price based on distance and time taken. With the app, there is no negotiation and in case you are not okay with it, you are free to get back to us to look into the charges.
You recently won the Business Category of the Young Achievers Awards. What does the achievement mean to your operations?
It was really empowering to a young entrepreneur. And to other young people out there, it was a signal that efforts are worth rewarding. But it was also the beginning of a new journey given that with the award, I still need to make impact in the future through creating jobs for others and also empowering thousands of riders believe in road safety.
What are the main challenges facing the bodaboda industry in Uganda?
The biggest challenge is the politics around the industry. For instance, in Kampala alone, we have over 54 boda boda associations and all these have ‘god fathers’ who seem to be powerful and fighting for domination. These associations are allegedly fueled by big names in the country and ultimately delaying growth of the industry. If nothing is done to clear this mess, then, the industry will never develop or even be respected.
What is the future outlook of SafeBoda operations in Uganda?
We are looking at achieving more with regards to road safety but also hope to have around 2,000 riders on our platform by close of this year and an additional 1,000 next year. We hope to continue empowering and supporting our riders financially. We aim to have all our riders holding bank accounts so they can directly benefit from the services of financial institutions as well as continue with road safety campaigns.