Old but Thriving: The Taxi war in Lagos

Taxi OldThey are old-fashioned and rickety. The men behind the wheels are oldies too. Yes, the cars are without the comfort and elegance common with chauffeur-driven vehicles. And the rate metres are completely absent. But their customers are mostly young street- smart ladies. Welcome to the world of the iconic Lagos yellow taxis. The taxis have a rich history behind them that makes them continued to thrive in spite of the introduction of new metre taxis by the state government. For instance, their customers said that they are reliable, cheaper and believed to provide security based on the experience of the old men behind the wheels. “I prefer the yellow taxi because it is safe and cheaper than the red cab or any other kind of taxi in Lagos”, said a young working-class lady who commutes daily using the taxi. “It is secure because you get the taxis mostly at a park and so if anything goes wrong you can always trace the cab back to the park in which you boarded it.” Economically, she argued that the yellow taxi pays. “Apart from security, taking a yellow taxi in Lagos is pennywise in the sense that it is affordable. For example, you can hire a yellow taxi from Victoria Island to Surelere for between N700.00 and N800.00 but if it were to be the other modern cabs, you may be charged as much as N1, 000 to N1, 500. Then, it is not advisable to take other taxis that are not coloured because you can’t be sure who the people operating them are. So, for me, I still prefer the yellow taxi”, she explained. For Olamidun Oretola, a journalist, it is about preference. “For someone like me, considering the nature of my job, when I have to use a taxi from one point to another, the most available ones are always the yellow taxis. You know, they work round the clock”, Oretola said. But for convenience, Oretola would prefer one of the modern taxis. 

Taxi New“When you. are not going to consider, may be just getting from one point to another, but you want to consider comfort, safety and all of that, I think the new generation taxis will rank higher. Then again, it is now also the question of who needs the taxi. They cost more compared to the yellow

taxi. So, at the point of hiring a taxi, the issue of credibility comes into play. Can I afford taking one of these new generation cabs from Victoria Island, to a place Iike Ikotun at 1:00am? Is it cheaper for me to go with a yellow taxi from Victoria Island to Ikotun at that particular time? You consider some of these things but if for instance you are going out with your family on a Sunday evening and your car is not working but you need to take them on an outing, definitely, comfort ranks higher than affordability, whether it is cost effective or not. So I would rather go for one of the new generations taxis”, he said. Oretola believed that the introduction of the modem cabs has allowed the operators of the yellow taxis to up their games. “Now you have yellow taxis that are in good condition. They have transformed to such extent that you may be able to get some with air-condition and still at affordable prices. So I think the emergence of the metre taxis has helped to improve the services rendered by the old taxi operators”, he noted. Clearly, the yellow taxis drivers have remained unyielding to the pressure of and seemingly threats by the modem taxis operators to take them out of business. A yellow taxi operator, Mr. Festus Akinshe told THISDAY that the operators of the yellow taxis are trusted and that is the main reason they are still in business. “We are old drivers and our customers can trust us. It is difficult for you to be in our taxis and be afraid of being kidnapped or losing anything. Besides, it is hard to come across a yellow taxi involved in an accident, because the drivers are careful, even when there is no speedometer,” he enthused.

Akinshe added that his colleagues understand Lagos routes like anything else. “This is the job we have been doing for many years. We know everywhere in Lagos and we can take you to far places. Getting around the city isn’t difficult a yellow taxi driver. We also spend time during the journey to discuss with our customers about general life issues,” he said. He gave insight into why the yellow colour has remainded with the taxis over the years. He said: “The colour of our taxis has been approved for Lagos state for a long time, but sometime ago the government said that it wanted to change the colour but we the operators insisted that it shouldn’t be changed because that colour has become trademark and we promised that all the yellow taxis will be well maintained.”

Akinshe agreed that the introduction of the modern taxis have affected the yellow taxis in a way. He said: “We are facing this challenge. It is true. The new taxis

are modern and well managed and we see customers going to them. The fact that the drivers are attractive and could be reached through their mobile phones and company websites means that they get ahead of us so easily.'” But Akinshe was quick to add that no matter the amount of modern taxis introduced in Lagos State, the old yellow

taXis will continue to thrive because of experience they have running the business over the years. “This has been our job. Those newly introduced taxis and their operators met us in this business and we know the in and out of this job more than they do. Many of the operators of the modern taxis are educated and they believe that they can edge us because of that; our credibility and our years of experience will keep us in this business for a long time. So we still have some advantages over then. We have our strategies that are helping us to thrive more and more in this face of the competition we are now exposed to. I am very optimistic that it is our job and that we would thrive more and more as we put our years of experiences into play. “Some of these modem companies do not know much about transport business like we the operators of the yellow taxi do. We have been here for a very long time and so we can tell the amount of fuel that would be used on a particular distance and so we are able to give our customers good prices and not exorbitant prices that would scare them away from us.

Indeed we have continued to endear ourselves to the commuters,” he said. He added: “The yellow taxis operator do not allow their drivers to misbehave and that is why we have our monitoring officers in yellow uniform at all strategic points around the city of Lagos to ensure that they monitor the activities of the yellow taxi drivers. If for any reason any of our drivers misbehaves, you can report him to our monitoring officers as soon as you sight one and he will take action immediately and locate the taxi as soon as possible.” He said the monitoring officers stop yellow taxi operators at interval to demand for their tickets so as to ensure that they belong to a particular park and ultimately the yellow taxi operators association, all of which are aimed at providing security and safety to commuters unlike other forms of taxis that do not really put all these mechanism into place. The Secretary of the Obalende Progressive Taxi Park, Mr. Azeez Oderemi was also opined that the newly introduced taxis have affected the patronage of the old yellow taxis, but that the yellow taxis cannot just disappear from the streets of Lagos. “Initially it was very tough for us when these new taxis were introduced in Lagos but with time, we began to work on strategies to compete favourably with the new taxis, even though the vehicles we are using are very old. But we realise that our customers are loyal and they have not abandoned us.” Oderemi talked about the challenges of Lagos State Taxi Drivers and Cab Association in acquiring new vehicles to be able to compete favourably with the new taxis.

He said: “You know most of us on this side are getting old. So to get a vehicle of about N3-4 million is very hard for us and that is why we are appealing to the Lagos State Government to give us vehicles that we can afford so that we can also move along with the mega city that the government is trying to transform Lagos state into. “Most of us started this trade when we were young and continued with it as we grow older and so as we grow old, our vehicles are also getting old and obsolete and that is why we need government’s support to change our vehicles to modern ones even though we cannot change our age.” A few years back, the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola started promoting the idea of metre taxi by encouraging private sector to invest in the taxi business in order to boost the transport system in the state. The state had therefore, created a law back up the new initiative which allows an operator to have a minimum of 200 cabs which must be registered with government and must come with metres and tracking devices. According to a transport expert, Mr. Yekini Adejobi, the idea of the state government is laudable, especially that i t did not seek to take out the old taxi from the street, “There is no way the old taxis will not continue to thrive. They cater to a category of people and nowadays that motorcycle are no longer there, the taxis come in hand and people will always go for the cheapest ones regardless of the comfort that is totally absent,” he said.

Culled From Thisday, May 7 2014.

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