Mobility platforms have expanded their operations across West Africa with the opportunities provided by the developing public transportation system, large population, and growing urbanization in the region. Bolt has led the development of the sector in recent times since its emergence in West Africa. The ride-hailing company hopes to continue exploring and executing concepts and services that benefit the entire region.
In this chat with Ireoluwa Obatoki, Bolt’s Regional Manager for West Africa, she speaks on plans to lead Bolt’s expansion and growth with creative projects in the region.
You have recently taken charge of the West-African region for Bolt. Can you tell us about the new challenge and your experience so far?
I joined Bolt in 2017 a year after our foray into West Africa, with a mandate to expand Bolt’s presence outside of Lagos. The first year was intense as we strived to establish ourselves while contending for a share in the market. With the right focus on delivering a better mobility solution, within a year, we gained a market leader position in Abuja, after which I then led the expansion into five other cities in Nigeria.
By 2019, we were the market leader nationwide with the widest geographical footprint in the country. Since then, I took up a more international role, with a focus on the global expansion of Bolt’s ride-hailing business. I have now been called back home to manage West Africa. There is still much to be done to continue to offer the best service to our customers in West Africa and I couldn’t be more excited about this challenge.
Since Bolt’s arrival to Africa, you have established a presence in seven African countries driving the sector and economy towards growth. What are the potential market growth and expansion plans for Bolt in West Africa?
Yes, we have made big strides in the continent since 2016. Today, millions of Africans rely on us for their daily commute while over 700,000 drivers and their families make both their main and supplementary income through the Bolt platform. In addition, we boost internally generated revenue by paying all legitimate State and Federal taxes. Although we are now the biggest ride-hailing platform in West Africa, there’s still an immense opportunity for growth – less than 5% of all daily commutes in the region are taking place on ride-hailing apps. The remaining 95% occur mostly through public transport and personal vehicles. We want to increasingly be a viable alternative to public transportation and personal vehicles.
As the Regional Manager for international markets, how would you implement new ideas from the other markets to develop West Africa’s mobility sector?
I have launched and managed Bolt’s ride-hailing business in Thailand, Paraguay, & Lebanon and recently taken over Tunisia, among others. In three of the four, we have grown Bolt to the market leader position while in Thailand, we are in the top three. In the process, I have certainly gained a wealth of knowledge about the ride-hailing business and figured out broad patterns for success in delivering and growing the service. My approach in West Africa will be to run operations with a global mindset while delivering hyper-local solutions that are tailored to the needs of people in this region.
You have led expansion strategies in Latin America, Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and North Africa, what new strategies would you initiate to expand Bolt’s presence in West Africa?
Each region is unique in terms of economy, socio-demographics, and regulatory policy – each factor affecting the level of freedom we have to grow and influence the digitization of the transport sector to various degrees. At the same time, we find that what people want in terms of mobility is largely the same across the board – a safe, reliable, and affordable ride at the tap of a button.
My aim is to drive up the adoption of our service in the region by delivering on these three pillars. We want every user to feel safe at each stage of the journey and know what kind of support is available and where to receive such should an incident occur. We are hyper-focused on ensuring the time spent between requesting a ride and embarking on one is no more than a few minutes. Finally, we want to bring this service to all customer segments at different price points which offer a better experience to both regular and business customers.
In West Africa, there is a significant discrepancy between urban and rural areas, particularly in terms of mobility. How does Bolt plan to address this difficulty in acquiring access to mobility in all locations?
So far, we have done an excellent job in bringing better mobility options to users across the region. Bolt is currently live in over 40 cities, covering numerous urban/remote locations and as the sole player in most of these cities. We are keen to offer a better way to commute to people living outside urban areas but so far, our level of penetration has been stifled by the rate of internet and smartphone penetration.
In response, we are currently piloting a dispatch service in Ghana (Call a Bolt)which will allow users without internet access to order a Bolt ride. This way people who seek access to mobility will have the opportunity to reach their destination without any barrier to entry and drivers will have access to a pool of people who were previously without access to reliable transportation. The outcome of the pilot will determine whether we will roll out this service across the region.
What is Bolt’s ambitions for ecologically sustainable and safe transportation? Do you foresee the introduction of electric vehicles soon, and do you think the region is ready?
In Africa and West Africa in particular, we currently have infrastructural issues that make scooter operations unfeasible on a large scale. In addition, there are fewer electric vehicles in the region due to macroeconomic factors at play. However, we are determined to facilitate more ecologically sustainable transportation. In May, we launched the electric vehicle category in Ghana to encourage more electric vehicle owners to sign up on our platform. We hope to grow the supply of electric vehicles in this category over time and complete more rides through electric vehicles.
One of the recurring challenges facing West Africa’s mobility sector is safety. What safety measures is Bolt implementing in the region to protect riders and drivers?
Providing safe rides is one of our core value propositions as a platform, and as a woman, safety is even more important and personal for me. Our approach will be two-pronged: we will take proactive and reactive measures that deliver an unmatched level of safety to our customers. We also want to raise awareness of the safety tools we have in place to protect our riders and drivers.
Proactively, we have a suite of processes and technology that vet and train drivers on how to handle and de-escalate tense situations. On both the riders’ and drivers’ perspectives, it is possible to experience a safe and reliable means of moving around. We will prioritise our proactive processes in the upcoming months to ensure that, as much as possible, we can prevent safety incidents from occurring. We are currently beefing up our driver and rider verification tools that will increasingly make it more difficult for impersonators to use others’ accounts.
To address inevitable incidents, we also have and will continue to deploy relevant solutions. One of these is the SOS button – an emergency button that connects our users directly to the local police service. In addition, we have rolled out on-trip insurance which covers medical expenses, loss of personal effects, permanent and temporary disability, and death.