Benin boasts the best indigenous cabs in West Africa
A government-initiated cab service operated by private individuals proves a game-changer for visitors and nationals in Benin.
BY SUE B. SIMON
Gone are the days when tourists or businessmen visiting Cotonou, the largest city in Benin, had no choice but to rent expensive cars if they want to move around comfortably. The government of President Patrice Talon in June 2017 initiated an innovative cab service operated by private individuals that allows visitors and nationals alike to navigate the bustling traffic of Cotonou for only a few dollars.
A tool to promote tourism
Benin Taxi is a key-component of President Talon’s strategy to promote tourism, one of the pillars of the president’s ambitious blueprint for the development of Benin known as The Government’s Plan of Action, or PAG. During an exclusive interview with The African magazine in Cotonou, the president’s senior minister in charge of planning and development, Abdoulaye bio Tchané, said:
“In the course of the development of the Government’s Plan of Action, we realized that one of the main barriers to the development of the tourism sub-sector was the deficit in terms of transport, especially in urban areas. So the head of state decided to create a modern fleet of cabs in the largest cities, starting with Cotonou.”
“Besides solving a transportation problem,” the minister added, “the Benin Taxi initiative also addresses several other challenges, including youth’s unemployment and environmental protection.”
Benin Taxi has a technological advantage over traditional cab services in the African region: the service can be requested for a run or a reservation by phone or another mobile application, with courteous operators answering the phone calls swiftly.
To implement the concept, the government acquired 300 brand-new, air-conditioned vehicles for use in Cotonou and the surrounding areas and entrusted them with young so-called artisans who will drive them for a period of four years with the objective of paying back the government. The cab operators, who are self-employed, are being trained throughout the project. In the end, they will become the rightful owners of the vehicles and carry on their business with the clientele built over the years.
A gradual implementation
The first batch of the Benin Taxi vehicles hit the roads of Cotonou in June 2017, followed by a second batch in November, with 50 more vehicles expected in the near future. After the official launching ceremony in June, Minister bio Tchané wrote on his Face Book page about his satisfaction at “reading joy on the faces of the vehicle drivers for finding lasting employment, and, above all, their determination to succeed.” He predicted the second phase of the project will be even more successful than the first one.
The minister, whose background is economics—he previously served as IMF director for Africa and later as the chairman of the West African Development Bank—stressed that the new cab service, besides directly employing 300 young entrepreneurs, also indirectly employs about 300 other people.
West Africa’s New York Cab
Benin Taxi’s vehicles have the exact same color as New York cabs, and one wonders whether the Beninese officials deliberately sought to mimic the Big Apple. “Not so,” said Minister bio Tchané who stated that several colors were considered during the design period. Yellow was picked for various reasons, including its visibility in the daytime and nighttime, and its historical choice in several major cities throughout the world by cab companies. “At any rate,” the minister added: “New York cab drivers were happy to know that their color was picked in Cotonou, a feeling shared by some of our artisans.”
The fare for riding Benin Taxi was given a careful consideration during the design process to please both the clients and the self-employed drivers as instructed by the head of state. So the base price is set at cfa 1,000 (about two dollars), with gradual increases across different zones.
Profitable as expected
Benin Taxi isn’t just for tourists. The service targets the nationals as well. The base fare of cfa 1,000 per zone was too high for most people at the start, but ridership rose gradually, with more Beninese now taking Benin Taxi to work, to the marketplace and even to the beach. Moussa Adamou Gado, a Benin Taxi driver who drove our staff throughout our entire stay in Cotonou, confirmed the trend in an interview with The African:
“The cost is too high for some Beninese, but business isn’t too bad. I’m making the best out of it.”
“Overall,” says Minister bio Tchané, “Benin Taxi has worked its way into the people’s habits and is becoming profitable as expected.” The official is mindful that the drivers’ main preoccupation is to keep a reasonable profit margin after making the periodical payments toward the loan. To ensure a smooth launch of the service, several stimulus measures were implemented to help the drivers, the minister also says.
With his eyes set on the future, the Benin senior minister of planning and development predicts Benin Taxi will yield good dividends in terms of tourist attraction. During the launch of the second batch of Benin Taxi’s vehicles last November, the minister hinted at the service being soon extended to other large cities in Benin.