Drivers at arms: Cab-hailing drivers in Ghana talk about taxes, robberies and bearing weapons to survive

Ejike Kanife
In particular, an area called KC Nungua is dreaded because of the constant episode of robbery and car snatching that drivers suffer there. Drivers have lost money, phones and their vehicles to criminals masquerading as passengers…
Drivers at arms: Cab-hailing drivers in Ghana talk about taxes, robberies and bearing weapons to survive
Image source: Carmat

On Tuesday, April 5 2022, drivers of e-hailing companies in Ghana began a two-day country-wide strike. The purpose of that industrial action was to protest against the rising spate of insecurity and violence meted out against drivers, usually by the same riders they serve.

One month later, on May 11, 2022, the drivers were sitting back at home again for two days. Apparently, the attacks on e-hailing drivers have worsened to the point that some drivers have allegedly been murdered by criminal riders who then stole their cars.

The situation was so bad this time that the president of the Ghana Online Drivers Union, Francis Kweku Tenge, called on his union members to carry weapons to protect themselves while executing their jobs. 

Indeed, Accra-based e-hailing drivers are already heeding the call. Desmond, a driver who spoke with me and who himself has been attacked, says he now carries a weapon around to protect himself from riders.

Asked who they blame for this, their response was unequivocal; the app companies who refused to carry out proper background checks on riders.

Drivers at arms: Cab-hailing drivers in Ghana talk about taxes, robberies and bearing weapons to survive
Uber, Bolt and Yango drivers embark on two-day strike. Source: GhanaWeb

This is one of the many problems bedevilling the ride-hailing space in Ghana. While the industry provides jobs and a means of livelihood to many families, it is also a path wrought with numerous perils.

Similar: After 7 years of struggle, Uber, Bolt drivers get government-approved union in Nigeria, first in Africa

e-hailing operations in Ghana

The first company in Ghana to employ technology in the taxi business was Easy Taxi in 2014. Even though its services were entirely free, the attempt died in its infancy as people didn’t quite warm up to it. 

But by 2016, the Ghanaian market was ripe for ride-hailing services. Uber quickly took advantage and became the first to operate a successful ride-hailing company in the country following its launch in 2016.

Following a test in 2016, Bolt would eventually launch its service in 2018. With its greatly reduced commission of 15% at the time (Uber was accepting 25%), Bolt quickly became the second biggest player in the country, displacing local apps like Yenko and Uru.

The third largest player in the Ghanaian ride-hailing space is Yango, a Russian company that made its entry in 2019. Although it offers up to 50% discount to riders, drivers, however, claim it is their least preferred for a number of unfavourable reasons.

Russian cab-hailing company, Yango launched in Ghana in 2019
Russian cab-hailing company, Yango launched in Ghana in 2019

There are more than 100,000 app-based drivers in Ghana. These drivers are majorly based in the major cities of Accra, Cape Coast, Kumasi and Takoradi. Accra alone boasts more than 20,000 drivers logged on to at least one of the three major companies.

According to Elizabeth Ryan, the chairperson of Ghana’s National Alliance of Digital Drivers Union (NADDU), most drivers don’t own their vehicles. They are rather operating on hire purchase or what they call “work and pay”, which is basically a rental service.

A war of fares, commissions and outrageous discounts

As could be expected, the fares vary from company to company. Uber usually charges a minimum fare of between 10-12 cedis. This includes a base fare of 2:71 cedis, a kilometre fare of 1:30 cedis and a minute fare of 50 pesos per minute.

Bolt has a minimum fare of 9 cedis, a recent reduction from 12 cedis (which the drivers claim they weren’t informed about). Yango charges a minimum fare of 12 cedis. However, drivers claim that it gives back most of this as a discount of up to 50% to its riders.

Elizabeth Ryan, the chairperson of Ghana’s National Alliance of Digital Drivers Union (NADDU) in Ghana
Elizabeth Ryan, chairperson of Ghana’s National Alliance of Digital Drivers Union (NADDU) in Ghana

This usually leaves the driver with 6 cedis, and though the company promised them an 18% bonus, the drivers claim they hardly get this.

The drivers are greatly dissatisfied with the fares. Desmond explains why by using a comparison with regular taxis. He says:

“Where regular taxis would charge 20 cedis, Bolt and Uber would charge 10 cedis. That’s like half of what taxis charge. And we are the ones that will still fuel the vehicles, run maintenance and still pay commission.”

While 10 cedis might have been considered fair for short trips in the past, a surge in petrol and diesel prices in the face of a steep economic downturn has made that price severely unreasonable for app drivers. And even after app companies like Uber increased the fairs to 12 cedis, it still wasn’t good enough.

Read also: ‘We are Reviewing our Rates,’ Bolt Tells Boycotting Drivers in Kenya

Indeed the online drivers union president argued in November last year that the fare ought to have been increased to 20 cedis, but considering the plight of riders, 15 cedis should have been the least fair acceptable, not 12.

“At least GH¢15 is okay because we can’t also put much pressure on the riders as well so it’s a win-win for everybody. Anything below GH¢15 is not helpful to anybody,” the president said.

As for the commission, Uber started with 25% per trip. But Bolt launched with a 15% commission, a move which saw many Uber drivers migrate to Bolt. Seeing as it was losing its drivers, Uber reportedly reduced its commission to 20%. To sweeten its deal, the company also instituted a policy in which if a driver completes 50 trips in a day, Uber reduces its commission to 2% for subsequent trips.

As for Yango, the company launched with a commission of 18% for drivers and a discount of up to 50% for riders. While this has attracted riders, it alienates drivers from the platform. This is because the drivers find themselves making less on the platform.

Also, the company extracts its service charge from the driver’s account even before the ride starts. So if anything goes wrong, for instance, if the rider fails to complete the trip and pays less than the full price or refuses to pay, the driver bears the brunt while losing the full services.

“Any attempt to report such a situation to the company, they will accuse you of trying to defraud them. If you persist, they will just block you from the app.”

This outlook has forced the drivers into believing that accusations of fraud are the company’s modus operandi.

Drivers at arms

It is no longer unusual for e-hailing drivers in Ghana to carry weapons. This is largely due to the spate of violence drivers have suffered at the hands of the passengers they serve.

In particular, an area called KC Nungua is dreaded because of the constant episode of robbery and car snatching that drivers suffer there. Drivers have lost money, phones and vehicles to criminals masquerading as passengers.

The situation is so bad that the president of Ghana’s online drivers’ union publicly called for his members to carry weapons for self-defence:

YouTube player

Indeed, the drivers called out all the ride-hailing companies for failing to deal with the situation one way or another. While lauding Uber for having better means of dealing with situations where drivers suffer losses due to security, Desmond said Bolt fails in that regard.

“If they take your money, Uber will refund your money. If they take your phone, Uber will refund your phone. Then Uber will help you track the criminal. This is why criminals don’t use Uber for that thing. It is only Bolt that they use,” he said.

Elizabeth Ryan, on her part, insisted that all the companies have very weak background and verification checks for their riders. According to her, riders even register with ridiculous names that are clearly made up, yet the companies accept such as valid identification.

“They don’t know their riders. No background check, no verification, and no compensation from all of them. Yango doesn’t even have an email section for riders to fill out during registration. And after taking its service charge ahead won’t even consider refunding it,” she said.

The situation is so bad that many drivers have stopped working at night. The ones like Desmond who do are forced to carry weapons on themselves for defensive purposes. While admitting she couldn’t openly endorse that, Elizabeth said she completely understands.

“For someone exposed to so much risk without protection, it would be foolish not to protect yourself,” she said. 

To regulate or to remain as you were?

The notion of regulation in Africa and especially in the ride-hailing space is a particularly dicey one. This is because, for many regulators, regulatory efforts are largely driven by revenue generation.

The travails of cab-hailing workers in two major Nigerian cities of, Lagos and Abuja stories stick out in this regard.

In the attempt to regulate the e-hailing space by the Lagos State government, huge financial demands were placed on the app companies. They were, in turn, imposed on the drivers and splitter on fares. In return, the state offered little or no security or service.

Uber Drivers March on Lagos VIS Office to Protest Harassment and Clamp Down on Operations
Uber Drivers protesting in Lagos VIS Office to Protest Harassment and Clamp Down on Operations

I asked the Ghanaian drivers how they felt about regulation by the local authorities. 

The chairman of Ghana’s online drivers’ union, Francis Tenge, said that the union has been pushing for effective regulations for a while. In his estimation, the Ghanaian government must intervene to protect its citizens’ interest in e-hailing driving business.

“For the people who bet, there is the National Lottery Authority that regulates the lottery side. There is the Ghana Education Service that looks at education. But there is nothing concerning ride-hailing companies. So Uber can decide to charge GH¢5 today. Bolt can also do anything. There is no regulation. The government should put them together and regulate their services,” he told Ghanaian Citi News.

NADDU’s Elizabeth Ryan agrees with him. She believes that the presence of regulations would compel the app companies to comply with certain standards that will be set by the regulating body and rules.

Read also: ‘This is Extortion, not Regulation’- Bolt / Uber Drivers Groan Over Lagos Government’s Plan to Implement 10% Tax by August 20

But the regular drivers aren’t exactly sure they want to be regulated at this point. They believe that if the government interferes, their plight would worsen. They believe that they have seen the handwriting of what government regulation would look like, and they don’t want it. 

Citing the issue of government insurance, for instance, Desmond says the insurance cost for online drivers vastly differs from the regular taxi driver or private car owner. While regular taxi drivers pay insurance for 500 cedis, an online driver would be required to pay about 3,000 cedis for another class of insurance called “Private-Commercial” that would permit them to work for online hailing companies.

“The government even brought up a new rule that even if you have a driving license already if you’re an Uber driver, you have to go again to the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority) to pay more money for verification and all that. But we opposed that to the bitter end. After seeing these things, how can you be calling the government to be involved? They are already involved and it’s not doing us any good,” he said.

While it is only fair that a vehicle used for taxi-hailing must have a higher class of insurance than a private vehicle, it could be argued that the 600% disparity in cost is just too huge.

In conclusion

While there is a myriad of serious problems facing e-hailing drivers in Ghana, perhaps the most serious of them all is that the drivers don’t make nearly enough money to compensate for these hardships.

Since most drivers don’t own their own vehicles and must make remittances to the owners, making good money becomes very difficult. The average driver works an average of 15 hours a day to actually earn enough money to eke out a living. 

And according to Elizabeth Ryan, after fueling their vehicles, purchasing data and calling cards, paying commissions to the app companies and remittances to vehicle owners, many ‘work and pay’ drivers scarcely earn above the country’s minimum wage of about 15 cedis a day.

It is true that e-hailing work is categorized as gig work. But the reality in Ghana and many third-world countries is that it has become more than gig work. It has become a major source of livelihood and is treated as such by the drivers. Sadly, they don’t believe the app companies see it that way.

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