The conventional way of hiring a taxi in The Gambia is that you stand by the road, stop a passing taxi, tell the driver where you’re going, negotiate the price and within a few seconds, you’re onboard and being driven to your destination. You hardly have any idea who your taxi driver is. You know nothing about him. Chances are that if your safety or security is compromised during the ride, you won’t know who to complain against because your driver is a stranger to you. Worse, if you forget your item in the taxi (which happens quite a lot), you can’t get in touch with your driver because you have no idea who he is or where to contact him.
Ebou Lawrence Mendy, a young software engineer heard the story of a female friend who was robbed of her belongings by a taxi driver she hired in the middle of the night to take her home in 2017. According to the young woman’s narration, the taxi driver drove her to an isolated area and threatened to hurt her unless she gave him her handbag and mobile phone. She surrendered both and he dumped her in the dark and drove off.
Mendy felt his friend’s pain, and he promised her he’d use his tech skills to do something about it. He already had Kameko, a start-up that develops customized software solutions for businesses in The Gambia and elsewhere.
To fulfill the promise he made to his friend, he built the Taxi app aimed at ensuring passenger safety and security.
“The app provides security in the area of transportation because the information of the taxi driver is recorded in the system, as well as that of the passenger,” he tells The Chronicle. “So with that, even if the passenger forgets something in the car it can easily be located hence the exact driver is known.”
Beside safety and security, the Taxi App also aims to boost passenger convenience in terms of tariffs, to ensure even foreigners pay fares that are fair.
“In The Gambia, 20% of our GDP comes from tourism. That means a lot of visitors come to the country. But again when it comes to transportation you realize that once an individual does not understand the system, he or she can easily be over-charged by taxi drivers. But this app automatically calculates the cost and one doesn’t need to worry about being over charged.”
So how does the app work? Lawrence says, “Today in the Gambia if one needs to hire a taxi like town trip, you need to have a driver’s number and most of the time it takes time before the driver shows up. Sometimes you walk to the highway to get a taxi. With this app, it doesn’t matter where you are or the time you want to go out. You just click and the taxi will be there.”
The app is not as popular as Mendy anticipated in terms of usage.
“When I started Kameko in 2017, my first start-up that provides customized software Solutions for businesses, I have experienced a lot of challenges including unstable electricity, getting the right staff and having investors in the Gambia. When it comes to awareness, a lot of people don’t believe that these innovations can make their businesses flourished.”
Mendy headed to Ghana to look for partnership. And the outcome; he introduced Ryde Africa Technologies (in 2018), “a platform that allows customers to request for the closest Ryde Africa taxi for pickup through Ryde Africa taxi app or by calling Ryde Africa Dispatcher line. The service is currently available in The Gambia and Accra in Ghana.”
Ryde Africa Technology aims to expand in Africa and Mendy’s team has already visited Dakar in Senegal and Abidjan in Ivory Coast to explore expansion opportunities in those cities. His Taxi app is still functional.