Rural Transport

In the last 25 years or so, motorcycle taxis – and more recently motor-tricycle taxis – have fundamentally changed mobility and access in urban sub-Saharan Africa, providing rapid and door-to-door transport, supporting livelihood activities, and facilitating access to essential services, such as health, markets and education. In many African cities, motorcycle taxis – often referred to as Okadas in West Africa or Boda bodas in East Africa – are responsible for the majority of transport movements of both people and goods, and provide hundreds of thousands of jobs to often low-skilled and/or marginalised youth.

COVID-19 and the urban motorcycle taxi sector

Urban motorcycle taxi operators provide essential services, including to key health workers, during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also experience risks of contracting the virus and spreading it, due to their close and multiple interactions with customers. Understanding the impact of COVID-19 – and of the measures taken to mitigate the spread of the virus – on this widespread intermediate form of transport is crucial for planning, managing and operating urban transport services, so that essential services remain accessible for urban dwellers during periods of lockdown or curfews. In the second half of 2020 our consortium was awarded a grant by HVT/UKAID to formulate and accelerate Covid-19 related ‘best practice’ in the urban motorcycle taxi sector in sub-Saharan Africa. Quantitative and qualitative data was collected in six SSA countries – Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Establishing best practices in the urban motorcycle taxi sector

While motorcycle taxis – and motor tricycle taxis – are now a well-established mode of public transport in nearly all SSA countries, rental, ownership and operational models can differ significantly from one region or country to the other. So does the role and impact of motorcycle taxi unions, with some being no more than ‘cartels’ exploiting their members while others genuinely advocating for the operators’ wellbeing and livelihoods. Equally, responses of city councils vary considerably, ranging from working together with operators and unions to regulate the sector and promote health and safety, to outright banning (albeit often unsuccessful) commercial motorcycle riding. In 2020 our consortium was awarded a grant by Volvo/Mobility and Access in African Cities to establish good practices for urban motorcycle taxi transport and pathways to those practices. Quantitative and qualitative data was collected in five SSA countries – Liberia, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania – on user needs, governance & politics, business models and safety & health.