Uganda's SafeBoda ride-hailing service hopes to expand across Africa

KAMPALA, Oct 11 (Reuters) - A ride-hailing app for motorcycle taxis that is transforming public transport in Uganda aims to expand to at least 20 other African cities, its co-founder says.

SafeBoda, founded in 2015 by a former motorcycle taxi-driver from Uganda and two European economists, counts 6,000 riders in its network in the capital Kampala and is backed by social enterprise investors, including British-based Global Innovation Fund.

“We plan to grow and cover at least 20 African cities and be able to make sure that people can commute safely,” co-founder Ricky Thompson Rapa told Reuters in an interview.

Most capitals across the continent are growing rapidly and have huge youth populations, but are plagued by poor road infrastructure. Most lack modern urban mass transportation systems like subways and organised bus services.

SafeBoda launched in the Kenyan capital Nairobi in June and drivers in bright orange vests with the company logo now buzz about the city of more than four million people.

In Uganda’s capital, “boda bodas” -- the term in East Africa for motorcycle taxis -- are the main form of public transport. Clusters of them are found at intersections all around the traffic-clogged city.

But passnegers must weigh the speedy way of dodging gridlock against safety concerns. Hospitals frequently treat patients injured in accidents involving the motorcycles.

Safeboda has drawn competition -- three other ride-hailing apps for motorcycle taxis launched this year. Rapa says the concept of well-trained drivers, equipped with helmets for themselves and their passengers, has gained traction.

SafeBoda has helped standardise fares for trips, cut charges, and brought improved safety and security for passengers in what has long been an informal, lightly regulated industry, he said.

The biggest challenge is that drivers are inexperienced users of smartphones, so the firm has trained them to be better able to receive and respond to passenger requests.

Drivers pay about $120 to sign up on the service. The company takes 15 percent of revenues from each ride. Rapa said their research shows their drivers are making 30 percent more than their colleagues who are not on the app. (Reporting by Elias Biryabarema Editing by Maggie Fick and Angus MacSwan)