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Smart ride struggles to establish itself in Gulu city

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Gulu, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Poor internet connection and the limited number of smartphones among bodaboda riders is affecting the smooth operation of Smart Ride, a transport company that launched its operation in Gulu in 2020.

Smart Ride requires a passenger or client to request transport services through a mobile application that can only be installed on a smartphone. It was launched in May 2020, with the hope that within three months, it would be well established, according to Michael Ebong, the founder of the transport service.

At the start of the business, more than 270 bodaboda registered to do business with Smart Ride, but now, less than 50 are working, albeit inconsistently, because the majority do not have smartphones and are not willing to buy internet bundles for the App to function.   

“The App requires one to have a smartphone of at least 16GB because it uses  Google Maps, which consumes a lot of space. But when we go to a bodaboda stage of 30 members, we might find that only three members have a smartphone, which has a very low capacity to even accommodate the Smart Ride App,” Ebong said.

Ebong says that believing that Safe Boda already did a lot of sensitization about they kind of business, they expected to have a smooth sail in Gulu city.

However, ten months later, the number of Bodaboda riders who registered to work with the transport company seems to be dwindling even further, yet the company still has 100 members on its waiting list. These include those who registered but failed to meet one of the most basic requirements; having a national Identity Card.

“Many bodaboda’s do not have a national ID, leave alone a riding permit, so it is hard to know who they really are, because even their phone numbers are mostly registered in other people’s names. We can’t take chances because they have their name, we need solid proof, in case a clients parcel gets lost,” he said.

He adds that the majority of bodaboda’s also hired motorcycles, so their consistency is dependent on the availability of the motorcycle, adding that some of the riders change the motorcycle without notifying the company, which creates doubt in those intending to board.   

“Some bodaboda’s work for a day and the following day you find them walking, and if you ask, they’ll say the motorcycle was taken by the owners. Sometimes, they hire another motorcycle and don’t inform us, so when a client sees that the Boda has a different number plate, they refuse to board, because of safety and trust issues,” he said.   

Ebong says because of clients cancelling many rides due to varying number plates, they only had 17 riders by the end of last week.

To effectively use the App, a rider needs an internet bundle of 10MBs a day, as long as they don’t browse other sites out, be active on social media, or download. However, Ebong says they tried to solve to internet issue by buying monthly data bundles for the riders but they could only work for a few days and get offline.

He says they are now trying to strike a deal with MTN, which network is being used by the majority of their clients and riders, to offer them a zero-rating package, where both rider and client operate the App even when they don’t have internet bundles.   

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