Being the first Ethiopian RIDE Hailing business has a downside, especially when a startup funding is scarce and Internet service is continuously interrupted for security reasons. And yet, the market demand triumphs.
The city of Addis Ababa is on the cusp of a transportation revolution. Last year alone, close to 1200 brand new metro cabs fully equipped with metering devices were imported duty free from a couple of offshore manufacturers, with an intent to gradually upgrade the existing old sedan taxis roaming the city. Currently, there are around 8,000 blue and white sedan metro cabs operating, most of which are models fabricated before the 90’s. However, inefficiency of the metro taxi system and lack of quality assurance to passengers has reduced serving volume tremendously, pushing fares up-heal and undercutting the huge market potential. The new 2016 replacements equipped with latest taxi technologies are destined to enlighten the capital with a modern and colorful design, specifically manufactured to enhance passengers’ safety and comfort.
Hybrid Designs PLC, the exclusive technology partner to Ze-Lucy Meter Taxis, entered the taxi hailing market in 2014 with a vision to make transportation in the capital affordable and convenient through technology. It is pioneering Ethiopia’s Hailing business with its service named RIDE, gaining traction from corporates and international organizations that covet for such systems. After performing months of extensive business and product developments, Hybrid Designs team collaborated with Lifan Motors to design a proprietary, custom metering and vehicle locating devices for the newly imported vehicles. The CEO of Hybrid Designs PLC, Samrawit Fikru, explains the significance of this solution especially in solving mapping and accurate distance measurement issues Uber encounters in emerging economies. “We have indirectly managed to determine exact locations and precise distance metering without acquiring a mapping tool company like Uber did,” said Samrawit; a young and passionate tech female entrepreneur determined to create jobs to more than 5,000 drivers in her city.
The state of emergency issued in the country a few months ago and frequent Internet interruptions prior to that for security reasons have repeatedly pushed RIDE’s re-launching calendar farther. Hence, in addition to a web based booking platform, establishing a redundant call center dispatcher was inevitable for the company, to fulfill contractual corporate bookings at times of network blackouts. As Samrawit entails, such unexpected challenges shake the confidence of a potential market demand and participating investors, who wish to see the service active on scheduled time. “We have currently solved all the missing pieces to go fully operational, uninterrupted.” She further explains, “Each partner driver in our system is signing a special contract we arranged with Tecno Mobile to get a smartphone, and we are currently raising a working capital to crank up our full operation.” Funds being raised are mainly from local investors to fulfill exploding demands coming from corporations, embassies, hotels, international NGOs and organizations. Volunteers who believe in the RIDE project assist the founding team on various tasks to process service inquiries already coming through her private cell phone number.
Although Uber is a company that has shown time and again it will do whatever it takes to enter any market, the Ethiopian RIDE hailing business seems undoubtedly off limits beyond just creating controversies. To begin with, the transportation sector is enclosed only for local companies majorly owned by Ethiopian citizens, giving RIDE a chance to dominate the market without a contention from big muscles. The state and local investors owned banking system could also be a hindrance for Uber, as it has to collect service payment in local currency or bring back revenues collected through offshore credit card processors and deposit at local banks. If it wishes to expand to Ethiopia in the future, tough governmental policies from multiple angles could eventually force Uber to collaborate with RIDE as it is seen in China with archrival Didi Chuxing.