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‘Boda Boda’ After Indignity Of Falling Off
Bicycle In Public View Also Diminished !

Coastweek -- We continue this week to look at the changes that personal transport has undergone over the last few years. Last week we examined the changes and potential future of bus transport and especially regional bus transport, writes Teti Kamugunda.

This week we look at local personal transport and the changes and explosion in the boda boda business.

Boda boda is the name that was originally used for bicycles that provided transport across the border between Kenya and Uganda and specifically at a town called Busia.

There was healthy cross border informal trade in this town and in order to get goods to the markets and also transport traders, local youth and not so youthful entrepreneurs invested in bicycles to provide the service.

The distance was too short for the matatus to provide the service and the matatus would have had to invest a lot more in terms of border crossing fees, multiple permits as well as dual insurance in order to provide the service.

The crossing time would also have been extremely long due to the situation that obtained then.

At that time, there was a border post on each side of the border so one would have had to clear the Kenyan customs, immigration and security and then do the same on the Uganda part of the border.

Each of these would typically take one hour after the period spent queueing waiting for the service.

It would have meant that the trader would only be able to cross the border once a day and the matatu only make one trip of five kilometres each day.

The boda boda or bicycle taxi did not need to spend so much time because the officials manning the border posts from both countries recognised the futility of trying to rope in the multiple number of people who were using boda bodas to cross each day.

“Known” operators did not need to go through the multiple checks required after doing so many times and developing so form of rapport with the border security officers.

At the start of the century, just over fifteen years ago this mode of transport began to spread to adjacent towns.

It was mainly due to entrepreneurial youths who saw this as a means of making some form of income in meeting the needs for short trips in the rural areas.

Within a couple of years, the mode of transport was to be found in almost every town and city in the country.

It spread like wildfire and the initial apprehension about being seen as a passenger on the back of a bicycle began to disappear.

The indignity of falling off a bicycle in public view also diminished.

This rapid spread led to the city types pushing the border further by replacing bicycles with motor cycles.

This was because a few people saw the opportunity of making money by importing cheap Chinese and Indian motorcycles whose cost could be amortised within several months even at the low cost charged for this mode of transport.

It took under two years for a wholesale change from bicycles to motorcycles.

The authorities have also come into play and made regulations for the riders as well as the passengers requiring them to use safety gear that hitherto was considered optional.

The regulations have taken a bit of time to settle in but the uptake is now good.

Most boda boda riders are now using the safety equipment and they are also in the main carrying additional safety equipment for their passengers and insisting that they wear them.

The big development that is creeping into what is considered the luxury boda bodas is the provision of an in-bike-entertainment system as well as in situ parasol that protects the rider as well as the passenger from the elements.

The latter is effective mainly to protect from the sun.

It is not effective when it rains because when the bike is in motion, the rain will hit the rider and passenger as the bike cuts through the air. The only thing that remains in order to improve the look and feel as well as the experience, is for the noise level of the motor to go down and for the riders to provide noise cancelling ear muffs as well as suitable material to protect the hair styles of the passengers and mainly the lady passengers.

This may not be feasible and it is likely that regular boda boda users will start carrying their own safety equipment.

A new phenomenon that is starting up and will be causing challenges for the supermarkets is the shopping boda bodas.

This new trend is where people give the boda boda rider a shopping list and they go and do the shopping and bring it back to the house.

It is a variant of the home delivery service that many fast food restaurants are currently offering but in this case the originator of the service is the end user.

This mode of shopping is still very nascent at the moment but we see this become another income stream for the neighbourhood boda bodas and probably changing the dynamics of the boda boda business as well as the role of the supermarkets and kiosks. Kachumbari says, evolution is not limited to living organisms.

             

 

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