There’s no shortage of public transport in Africa, but finding the right vehicle where you need it, when you need it? That’s not always so easy. While Uber and Bolt have certainly transformed urban mobility in Africa, they’re not the only show in town.
In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, getting around is never an easy matter. The traffic jams in Lagos are the stuff of legend - residents spend up to four hours a day on their commute, and finding a safe, reliable and comfortable bus service is far from straightforward. That’s what Onyeka Akumah, Johnny Ena, John Shaibu and Afolabi Oluseyi hoped to change, when they founded Plentywaka in 2019.
Billed as an ‘Uber for buses’, Plentywaka hopes to smooth out the bumps in the road for travellers across Nigeria. Its ‘Dailywaka’ service takes care of everyday trips in a number of key cities, while Travelwaka is billed as the solution for long-distance trips between states. And while pandemic lockdowns forced a temporary pivot into moving foodstuffs and essential services, since the launch Plentywaka has gained more than 80,000 users, and completed more than 500,000 rides.
Using its own fleet of vehicles, leased to drivers, and partnering with existing bus companies, “Plentywaka is getting to a point where we’re now becoming more like an aggregator as we onboard transportation companies on our platform. Interstate travel in Nigeria is data insufficient, and we want to be the first company to solve this,” Ena explained to TechCrunch.
And the start-up is flexing its muscles, with plans for global expansion. It was accepted into the Techstars Toronto accelerator program earlier this year, opened an office in Canada, and recently secured $1.2m in a round of seed funding.
Those bold expansion plans included the recent acquisition of Stabus, a similar start-up in neighbouring Ghana, which relaunches on September 16 as Plentywaka Ghana. And that’s just the beginning, with bold plans to expand to a further six African countries within the next two years.
Across the continent Quickbus is working to similarly transform long-distance bus travel in East Africa and beyond.
Founder Humphrey Wrey describes Quickbus as a Skyscanner or Kayak for bus travel, an aggregator formalising a long-informal market with the option for additional customer services ranging from seat reservations to user reviews.
Since launching in 2018, Quickbus has signed up more than 40 bus companies across six countries, offering seamless online booking from Angola to Kenya, Zambia to Mozambique. In SA, Quickbus aggregates fares and schedules for 13 bus operators serving major routes.
Nairobi is proving a hotbed for urban mobility innovation, with homegrown ride-hailing service Little giving the likes of Uber and Bolt a run for their money.
Little launched in Nairobi in mid-2016, and in five short years has expanded to thousands of drivers across four East African countries. In June it added a fifth, with the launch in Ethiopia of Little Mekina, shaking up the transportation sector in Addis Ababa.
Along with offering innovative options such as boda-boda motorbike taxis and women-only cars, key to Little’s success has been its energetic addition of new service offerings within the Little ecosystem.
That’s no surprise, as Little is backed by payments giant Safaricom, which mean riders can purchase – and, crucially, drivers can sell – mobile airtime through the app, and users can do everything from paying utility bills en-route, to making a doctor’s appointment. Payments can be made using mobile payment system M-Pesa, not only credit card, and riders can even request a ride outside of the smartphone ecosystem, using physical store vendors or a USSD ‘short code’ to summon a ride.
As homegrown entrepreneurs apply global smarts to local challenges, moving around in Africa can only get easier.