How Covid-19 can improve transport in African cities

Britt Spencer

During the height of the 2020 pandemic, the authorities in many African cities temporarily banned vehicles that make up the semi-official paratransit sector – such as the taxis (14-seater minibuses) and boda-bodas (motorbike taxis), that provide an essential service in my own city, Kampala – fearing that they would be vectors of Covid-19 transmission. In 2021, they will use this opportunity to reform the paratransit sector to make it more efficient, reliable and customer-friendly.
The paratransit sector provides an essential link between homes and places of work for those, usually the poorer residents of a city, who cannot afford cars but whose place of employment may be too far to access on foot.


A major barrier to reform has been a lack of support from those who work in the sector, but governments now have a chance – thanks to the pandemic – to start reforming the sector with reduced political pain. They will do this through better regulation. In Kampala, the city’s government has used the opportunity presented by lockdown to start registering the boda-boda and taxi industry, with providers required to apply for and obtain an operating licence.
Technology will also have a major role to play. Ride-hailing apps, such as Uber, Bolt and Taxify have already disrupted the African transportation sector. In a post-pandemic world, city governments are more likely to tap into the potential these apps have demonstrated.
Apps will not only be used to support the formalisation and management of the industry through registering vehicles and determining routes, but they will also allow customers to connect to riders and drivers contactlessly. Cities such as Kigali in Rwanda have already instituted transport regulations that require all boda-bodas to use GPS-enabled smart meters to find their customers and determine their fares. Customers will have to pay using mobile money. In 2021, other cities (including Kampala) are likely to introduce similar measures.
This process of formalisation, while providing a better service, could be reflected in a higher price for users. In Accra, Ghana, for example, government and vehicle owners have already agreed a 15 per cent fare increase to compensate for the fact that vehicles cannot operate to full capacity.


This increase is fully passed on to consumers and it is likely that this will be the case with other reforms, too. However, governments will need to careful to ensure that any proposed reforms do not stifle an industry that has otherwise been providing employment, is generally innovative, largely self-financing and which provides an essential service for many African citizens.
Astrid Haas is the policy director of the International Growth Centre in Kampala

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