#StreetTech: My UBerBoat Experience and the Challenges Uber Needs to Address

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Uber Nigeria launched the trial phase of its ferry service UberBoat last week. The phase is expected to last two weeks. And since the purpose is to test its workability to identify strengths, weaknesses and flash points, I decided to experience the service and bring you my findings.

Route

UberBoat launched its trial phase (Image: TechNext)

The first thing I applaud about Uber’s Boat service is the route it chose to launch on. Uber Boat isn’t the first tech startup to launch a boat service – Gokada’s G-Boat beat them to it. G-Boat, however, launched on easy routes within the Island. That was always going to be a problem.

Uber Boat launched on one of the most demanding routes for commuters in Lagos. The journey starts at the Five Cowries Terminal in Falomo on the Island and ends at the Ikorodu Ferry Terminal at Dangote in Ikorodu. And vice versa.

Turn out was impressive as uber’s section of the terminal was buzzing (Image: TechNext)

Thus I wasn’t surprised that the boat was booked full and contrary to my fears that some folks would book and not turn up, the turn out was pretty impressive.

However, some customers complained that the route only favoured passengers in Ikoyi and majority of the people who work on Victoria Island would be cut off from the service.

Online booking and reservation

Online booking and reservation for UberBoat is done via web for now. But you need to have registered on the app to be able to book the service because the information you’ll be required to provide is information registered on your app.

Successful reservation

First you need to follow this link. Then you’ll be required to fill in your name, phone number on your Uber app and email used for your Uber app. Once you click on ‘book appointment’, the system will confirm your booking right there on web as well as via email.

No provision for online payment has been made yet as payment is done at the terminus. There’s no option to cancel reservation or to check reservation status.

On my particular ride, however, some passengers didn’t make reservations online. And when it was time to confirm my reservation, the Uber rep there simply asked for my phone number.

After she confirmed, I asked her to tell me my name as shown on her confirmation list but she said she could only see my phone number. I still doubt if she actually confirmed anything because if she did, other details like my name, which I believe is the most basic, should show up.

The UberBoat option only shows on the Uber app if you’re around a ferry terminal

The option to use an UberBoat would only come up in your app when you’re in or around a ferry terminal. And Uber gives 50% off Uber rides if the ride is taking you to or from an Uber boat ride. How cool.

The Journey

I was scheduled for the 5pm trip but I got there before 4pm. The Uber stand was very ubiquitous and totally unmissable. Two reps, Ezinne and Ann were there to warmly welcome and verify my reservation. After verification and payment, I was issued a nice Uber life jacket.

The UberBoat life jacket

Before the journey, a technical staff, Ahmed, advised passengers on caution and safety tips while on board the ferry after which he led us to the vessel. Most of the passengers were working class gentlemen and women in their corporate suites, briefcases/bags in hand.

Ezinne and Ann were on hand to attend to passengers

It was a smooth ride, occasionally interrupted by steep manoeuvres that scared first-timers but otherwise didn’t mean much to folks used to ferry transport. I sat close to a passenger, Deji, whose first time it was and who became mildly hysterical whenever the driver performed one of those slanting manoeuvres.

Perfect Route, Great Price and Few Challenges UberBoat Should Address
The pilot

Somewhere in the middle of the journey, all network services would disappear. This lasts for between 5 to 10 minutes. At that point too, a look around reveals the nearest lands appear as mirages in the distant horizon. It could be as bewildering as it could be mind blowing.

The journey began at 5.08pm and ended at 5.43pm, exactly 35 minutes as correctly touted by Uber. We were welcomed into the waiting arms of water hyacinths which had formed a large forest on Ikorodu waters.

Safety

Like I stated earlier, once payment is made, a passenger would be issued a life jacket. That seems to be the primary safety measure. Then before each trip, a technical staff would provide safety tips while on board the ferry as well as assist passengers properly wear and fasten their jackets.

Perfect Route, Great Price and Few Challenges UberBoat Should Address
Passengers are issued life jackets

Also on board the ferry are at least two lifeguards asides the captain. One might argue that in a ferry of more than 30 passengers, this may not be enough in the event of any mishap.

Another inauspicious safety concern is the overwhelming and sprawling presence of water hyacinths on the Ikorodu jetty. The sea weed is everywhere, stretching for almost half a kilometer into the water and putting worry into the minds of some passengers.

Perfect Route, Great Price and Few Challenges UberBoat Should Address
Weeds have overtaken the jetty at Ikorodu

I saw two boats caught among the forest of weed and their passengers shouting for assistance as their boat has been rendered immobile. There’s urgent need to at least clear a pathway. Some weeding have been done but there’s clearly no marked result as yet.

Pricing

The cost of one trip is #500 payable in cash and on the Uber Boat stand at the ferry terminals. It is not clear however, if the price would increase after the testing phase or if it would remain so.

Perfect Route, Great Price and Few Challenges UberBoat Should Address
Ikorodu Ferry Terminal at Dangote, Ikorodu

Many customers however expressed their hope that the price remains 500 as it is quite fair. A few of them said they won’t mind paying more as long as they spend less than an hour on their way to and from their places of business.

Complaints/Challenges

A major concern raised by the customers is time. They are of the opinion that 5pm is too early because a lot of people who need the service close by 5.30 or 6pm. They therefore suggested that the departure time be moved an hour, from 5pm to 6pm or 6.15pm so that even folks coming from Victoria Island could meet up.

Perfect Route, Great Price and Few Challenges UberBoat Should Address
The forest of weed floating on water should be a cause for concern (Image: TechNext)

Another concern raised is the quality of the ferry. The customers obviously prefer the larger and more spacious ferry to the smaller one. They said the smaller one feels like a cage and doesn’t even allow for proper ventilation. They therefore advise Uber to invest more on the larger ferries.

I sent a mail to Uber regarding these concerns but I’m yet to get a response as at the time of publishing this article.

In the end

It is still not clear whether UberBoat would adopt the ride-hailing model and allow private ferry owners to apply and on board into its system or whether it would exclusively provide its own ferries. But whichever it decides to adopt, what is clear is that a huge population of potential customers exist.

Perfect Route, Great Price and Few Challenges UberBoat Should Address
Shoreside at Ikorodu jetty (Image: TechNext)

Their main concern however, is safety. Nobody wants to be caught in a broken down ferry, in the middle of the open waters with no internet or mobile connection. If Uber Boat could assure them of their safety at all times, demand for the service would explode.


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