May 23 2014

The Emerging Motorcycle Taxi Sector of Nairobi, Kenya

When we think of mobility as a public good, we need to ensure that people can access different parts of the city in a flexible manner. There are several means that can be used for this from bicycles and cars to walking and public transportation.

The phenomenon of motorcycle taxis has become popular around the world recently. However, many urban planners, authorities and public transit managers view them as a nuisance. In Nairobi, the county government banned them from working within the Central Business District after complaints that they were adding to the already congested streets.

A man boards a motorcycle taxi with neither a helmet nor reflective clothing, Nairobi, Kenya

Two-wheeled taxis in East Africa started with bicycle taxis that would transport travelers between points along the Kenyan-Ugandan border (thus their name bodaboda) and this developed to be more common within the nearby towns. The recent inflow of imported Chinese motorbikes has slowly led to the growth of the industry within most urban areas of the region. Shortage of urban transportation and lax regulations are among the factors that have aided their growth.

Safety is one of the biggest concerns in this industry. Most passengers do not wear safety helmets and until recently, drivers would not even wear reflective jackets. Some hospitals have special wards for motorcycle accident victims, while in Kampala, Uganda, it is believed that more people die of motorcycle accidents than diseases like malaria. Overloading is also a problem, with bikes often carrying three or more passengers. In the Philippines there are cases of bikes carrying up to ten passengers. There have also been cases where criminals pretend to be riders, only to rob passengers midway through their journey.

Motorbikes parked at a market place, Nairobi, Kenya

On the positive side, one can also see several benefits of the system, such as the creation of employment in developing countries. The system adds to the available means of public transportation, provides a personalized door-to-door service, and a quick one at that, as they do not get stuck in traffic jams. In Kigali, Rwanda there are 10,486 motorcyclists on record and it is believed that up to 47,187 people depend on motorcyclists for their livelihoods, which could be about 4.5% of the city’s population. The industry has also recently seen several innovations like illuminated jackets for safety and even wearable passenger airbag jackets.

European countries have also adopted their own version of motorcycle taxis with the emergence of Virgin motor bikes and passenger bikes that can transport passengers on designated routes in and around London. There are many more safety measures taken there, but at a much more expensive rate than the services offered in developing countries like Kenya. In France, one can take a moto taxi from various parts of the city, including as an efficient means of airport transfers.

What is the future of motorcycle taxis? How should urban planners integrate motorcycle taxis into transportation systems or plans?

Credits: Images by Constant Cap. Data linked to sources.

Constant Cap

Constant Cap has a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Nairobi, Kenya. He holds an undergraduate degree from the same university. He regularly writes about urban planning issues online and in local dailies. Constant was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya and is passionate about the planning issues facing African Cities. He has a deep interest in sustainable transportation, urban resilience and the application of ‘new urbanism’ in Africa. He intends to work as a planner on the African continent and assist in bringing about modern sustainable urbanism. He currently works at the Advancement Office at Strathmore University, Nairobi.

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This entry was posted on Friday, May 23rd, 2014 at 9:02 am and is filed under Engineering, Environment, Infrastructure, Transportation, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


2 Responses to “The Emerging Motorcycle Taxi Sector of Nairobi, Kenya”

  1. Fred Says:

    Very well written and researched article!
    Congratulations Mr. Cap!
    Among many things, I’ve just learnt the origin of the term boda boda.
    I’ll add one more innovation though that has been added in some boda bodas in rain prone areas like Kisii. This is an umbrella that protects both the passenger and the driver from the elements.
    I believe the add-on began to be used in asian countries a while back.
    Fred M.

  2. Constant Cap Says:

    yes indeed… people can be creative. Some even have loud music now!

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