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 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
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
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.
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
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.