General Secretary of the Lagos State Taxi Drivers and Cab Operators Association, popularly known as Yellow Taxis or traditional taxis, Mr Taiwo Omolekan, tells GBENRO ADEOYE about the challenges being faced by the members of the association with the advent of e-cab hailing services like Uber and Bolt
What has been your experience since the advent of e-cab hailing services like Uber and Bolt in Lagos?
We have not been finding it easy at all. When they came in, we thought that they would also be made to pass through the process we passed through to get a franchise. We thought they would be given certificates and that colours would be allocated to them.
If you look at the Lagos State Traffic Law, it is stated clearly that anyone that wants to operate taxi service must obtain franchise certificate. After you must have done that, a distinctive colour will be allocated to you. During the administration of former Governor Babatunde Fashola, about nine franchisees were licenced, including the Lagos State Taxi Drivers and Cab Operators Association (Yellow Taxis).
We were allocated yellow colour; C&I Limited was allocated red; and Cooperate Cabs was allocated navy blue. That was how it was done. But the e-cab hailing services came in towards the end of Fashola’s administration. During his time, he accorded us a lot of respect. If the government wanted to make any law, he ensured that we were carried along. So we thought that when Akinwunmi Ambode came in, we would enjoy the same preference that Fashola gave to us. We thought he would also deal with us the way Fashola did but Ambode was very different entirely.
During Fashola’s administration, I met with him more than five times. In his office or his house, we would sit and discuss how to move Lagos forward in the area of traffic management. When Ambode came in, he didn’t even give us any attention. We wrote several letters to him to say that we would like to meet with him but throughout his tenure, we were unable to meet with him let alone talk about the problems in the transport sector. He didn’t give us any audience.
So when Uber, Bolt, Oga Taxi all came in, there were issues. The most painful part is that they were running taxi business in a coded way. We believe that if you’re a taxi driver, people should know that you’re a taxi driver. You should not be ashamed of your work. That is why some countries have driven them away.
How is that a problem?
Yellow is the colour associated with Lagos, so if a taxi from Lagos drives to any part of the country, people will know it is a Lagos taxi. But now, that has changed. You will notice that yellow taxis are gradually going into extinction. Some of our members are now changing their colour from yellow to others to appear like private vehicles because estates and hotels are not helping matters.
They are treating yellow taxis like they are anathema to them. Now, yellow taxis are not granted access to some hotels again. When Fashola was in government and the estates wanted to do something like that, the Commissioner for Transportation, Kayode Opeifa, warned against it and told them that yellow was Lagos’ colour.
But now, many of the estates in Lagos have started restricting yellow taxis from entering. They will even place a signpost to inform yellow taxi drivers that there is ‘no entry’.
They are treating us as if we are using our taxis to rob. But the e-cab hailing services that do not have marked colours, how do you know what they are doing with their vehicles? And some of them are used to commit crime. But hardly will that happen with our taxis because we have stickers and emblem that can make them identifiable.
The vehicle particulars (documents) that taxis operating in Lagos are expecting to get are nine. Body tag is compulsory for yellow taxis to have; we pay N3,500 annually to get it. Apart from that, we must get driver’s certification and renew it every year; it costs N3,000. It is called LASDRI certificate. If you don’t have it, you will pay N20,000 as fine to the Vehicle Inspection Office. Apart from that, we must obtain driver’s badge, which is N6,500.
Ask all the drivers registered with any of the e-cab-hailing services if they have these things. What they would have is vehicle licence, roadworthiness certificate and insurance certificate.
We don’t have any other job; this is the only job we have. And in our communities, people know it is our job. But imagine somebody working in an insurance company or elsewhere still driving a cab after work and competing with us.
And the police, VIO officials and even estate managers that harass us or do not allow us to have access to certain areas will not know that they are using it for commercial transportation, so they will enter freely.
Have you lost some of your members?
We used to have about 12,000 members but now it will be hard for us to have up to 5,000 members. We have lost a lot of members. Some of our members have left to join the e-cab hailing services, saying if you cannot beat them, you join them.
Yes, because of all these things, we decided that it would be better to launch our own hailing service like the one Uber and others have.
Does it mean that you will not be using the yellow colour again?
No, we will continue to use it; it is our traditional colour but people can use our application also hail our cabs electronically.
Who is funding that?
A company came to us and said because of our suffering, they would deploy the application for us.
But many of your members are old and might struggle to understand the use of the smart phones or the application?
They have trained our members. Yes, the majority of our members are old but they have been trained so we have the intention of launching it on October 24, 2019.
So the development has forced you to innovate too…
Exactly, and we will be launching it at the Lagos State secretariat so that we can take it to the government. It needs to do something so that the traditional taxis will not go into extinction. We will call it Ekocab.
How badly has the advent of e-cab hailing services affected your members?
Honestly, it has caused great hardship for us. Those that got their vehicles from banks under a hire purchase agreement were unable to meet up.
Do you have examples of how this has affected families or challenges that some of your members have faced?
Many of us face a lot of challenges like I said; many people took loans from banks to buy vehicles which they are using as taxis. Many were unable to pay back and the banks have been running after them. Then many homes have crises. People even call us from everywhere to tell us to find a solution to the problem and embrace technology.
But the most painful thing is that the government has been dealing with them with kid gloves. We are not saying that they should not be operating but they should also be mandated to collect all the documents that we are mandated to get.
Recently, I received a letter from Lagos State Internal Revenue Service. They said the tax they got from us this year was not encouraging. I asked them where the expected us to get money to pay for tax from when our people didn’t even have money to feed?
In 2015, we were the best taxpayers in the transport sector and the state government even gave us a certificate and a plaque in appreciation of efforts that year. It was because we compelled all our members to pay tax. Imagine getting 12,000 of our members to obtain tax clearance certificates.
Ask drivers of those e-cab hailing services how many of them pay tax. They don’t pay. From the calculation we did recently, the amount the Lagos Government was losing every month through the activities of these e-cab hailing services was about N1.2m. They have about 33,000 vehicles in their fleets. Imagine if all those 33,000 drivers obtain tax clearance certificates, you can guess how much that will be.
And if they obtain LASDRI, body tag and other documents that we are compelled to have, do you know how much the state government will make. But this is Lagos State; they get money from other sources so they are not even looking at that side. The state government is losing a lot of money while these people just sit in their offices and make millions of naira.
Even when you launch your app, it may also be tough for you to compete with others as some of your vehicles are rickety while theirs are in good condition. Don’t you think so?
Before, they were saying that they wanted 2012 models but now they accept 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 vehicle models in their fleet. We are talking to a company now that wants to give us vehicles. During Fashola’s administration, Union Bank gave us a loan of N523m, which we used to buy brand new Nissan cars. First Bank also gave us N350m, which we used to buy brand new Toyota Corolla cars. Now, we are talking to two companies who want to buy us brand new cars. We are planning to launch it with the application.
So how much of the loans have you paid back?
We are no longer indebted to Union Bank or First Bank, we have paid everything back. The money was running into about N1bn and we have paid it. There is a letter to that effect.
There was a time your association complained about police harassment and molestation; how bad is it now?
The major problem we have is now comes from the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority. There is no bus-stop for taxis; bus-stops are only considered to be for buses and BRT. If we park anywhere, they will get into your car and say you have parked in an unauthorised place.
So where are you expected to drop off your passengers?
I have told them that there is no bus-stop for taxis, it is only buses and BRTs that have bus-stops, taxis can pick and drop passengers anywhere provided that they are not blocking the road. If you park well, within two or three minutes, you would have picked up your passenger or dropped them off. But LASTMA officials have been arresting our members, especially on the Lagos Island.
If you dare to pick up a passenger, it is a problem. LASTMA officials are not allowing our members to rest; police problem is even minimal.