It is no longer news that bike hailing startup, Gokada, has taken advantage of the opportunity in the water transport sector to launch GBoat, a platform which basically aims to make water transportation mainstream in Lagos. What most people are not clear about is how the young business operates. What its logistics are, how efficient their service delivery is, how safe it is, and most importantly, how much all these will cost the average Nigerian to enjoy.
It is with these in mind that I undertook the curious task of assessing the GBoat service from an everyday-person point of view.
Presently, GBoat operates out of three main jetties; The Five Cowries Terminal at LASWA yard Falomo in Ikoyi; the Kingfisher Waterfront Jetty at Wole Olateju in Lekki; and the Paradise Jetty at Walter Carrington in Victoria Island.
You must have noticed that all three jetties are virtually on the Island which naturally places an embargo of sorts on people living in the mainland like Apapa, Festac, Ikorodu and others. But a GBoat representative I met later, Mr Jonah, explained that this is only for the time being.
“We have a plan for them,” he explained. “Ikorodu axis, it is not everybody that can go there because of the timber on water. But we have a plan for that as well. We have them covered.”
Because the Five Cowries Terminal in Falomo looks so lovely and grand, I decided to start my journey there. It is important to note that GBoat operates a schedule. There is the morning schedule which departs around 7.45am from all terminals, the afternoon schedule which leaves by 01.05/1.10pm in the afternoon and the evening boat which leaves at about 5.30-45pm. My trip was the afternoon boat and thus at about 12.45pm I was already at the terminal.
The first thing I noticed was that GBoat has no obvious presence there. There were various posts and signboards all over the absolutely lovely terminal but none belonged to GBoat. To make matters worse, there was no representative or space/cubicle which may serve as a focal point for them. Operators around the terminus seemed at a loss, asking to know what GBoat is.
Not one to carry last, I called the number on the website. The lady on the other end was very helpful because she contacted another lady who knew what to do and whom, in conjunction with Mr Jonah sent a private boat to pick me. Which speaks well for their customer service especially if you consider that I was the only passenger scheduled for that trip. They did not leave me stranded.
Booking a Trip
Booking a trip is quite seamless. However it is important to note that a GBoat app doesn’t exist at this time and even if it does, it isn’t ready to run just yet. Thus, booking is done via the GBoat website. The home page contains three main sections; the booking section, the terminal section where their three terminals are listed with addresses and the ‘how it works’ section.
The first step therefore is to select departure and arrival venues, then choose the date and time of the trip. After that you’ll be required to fill in personal details like name, email and phone number. Note that when doing this, do not leave space at the end of each detail filled else the system won’t process the request.
After that, your booking details will be displayed for review before proceeding to the payment section. At the payment section, you’d have to choose a method of payment like ATM, Bank transfer, Paystack, *737 etc. Payment will be confirmed and a payment record and reference will be sent to your phone.
My trip was from the Five Cowries Terminal to Paradise Jetty in Victoria Island and as stated earlier, I was the only passenger onboard, joined only by the boat pilot and his assistant. I came to understand that management of GBoat had sent a private boat to get me because their own boat which navigates that route developed a fault earlier in the day and had to be berthed for repairs.
The trip took ten minutes at most. We glided by in the water beneath motor bridges, the lines of vehicle traffic forming on them a sharp contrast with the easy and unrestricted journey I was having. Then there’s just the serenity and soothing feeling of the open lagoon around me with fresh breeze and light showers of rain giving me an actual feel of water on my skin.
Paradise Jetty looked nothing like its name. It is way less exquisite compared to the Five Cowries and a lot less restricted in terms of usage. While there, however, I requested and got access to one of GBoat’s fleet and it was indeed impressive, with great leather seats, a wide hull and seating arrangements for up to ten passengers. In addition, GBoat has a cruise boat open for hire.
Going through the website, it’s apparent that the initial price for a trip is set at N1,000 per person. But N800 was slashed off. Mr Jonah explained that the idea is to woo potential customers with price.
Putting it at N1,000 that first time we thought about it like, will people respond to it or not? So we said if they won’t, let us bring it down to that N200 so that from there we can decide to step a bit further. So we are just starting with 200 for now.
If N1,000 is the competitive price for Falomo to VI or Lekki, it would likely cost more for more distant routes like Ikorodu. For a common Lagosian used to spending at most N500 from Ikorodu to CMS, N1,000 or more is clearly on the high side even with the time slash.
As earlier mentioned, the schedule for trips are generally distributed to morning, afternoon and evening. However, the trips are still irregular. Mr Jonah explained that this was because of the low patronage so far.
We have morning afternoon and evening booking. If we have bookings, we execute the trips. If we don’t have bookings, we can’t just execute an empty trip. Normally we are not even supposed to take one person on a boat. We are supposed to wait till we have a full booking. But because we are creating awareness, even if it is one person we don’t mind taking that person.
On the issue of exposure to the elements thanks to the open roof build of the boats, Mr Jonah explained that they have leather covers for the boats. Then he went on to reveal that GBoat will soon take delivery of five fully covered boats from China.
Mr Jonah bemoaned the poor response so far revealing that it is not up to what was projected at this stage. He however expressed optimism that the more aware the public becomes of such a service, it would only be a matter of time before people start trooping in to try it out.
On the matter of other private boats being GBoat’s key competition and maybe enjoying a large share of the market presently, Mr Jonah explains that that isn’t a worry as GBoat covers more routes and obviously have a sounder business model.
In conclusion, while GBoat’s service may have taken off, whether it is here to stay remains to be seen. I think they could make a lot of difference by getting a few little things right. For instance, why are there no GBoat signboards on the jetties it uses as terminals? Why are there no GBoat signs anywhere? However, they seem enthusiastic about their business and it is no doubt a good one.
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