Nigerian online transport start-up Plentywaka in the eye of the Covid-19 storm – how it’s weathering difficult times

29 May 2020

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For some online start-ups in Africa like Jumia, the Covid-19 lockdown has presented both opportunities and challenges. For others, it has created difficult setbacks that have taken time to negotiate. Earlier in May we spoke to Johnny Enagwolor, co-founder and Managing Director of transport start-up Plentywaka, a premium bus hailing service.

The idea for the bus services Plentywaka runs came out of bitter personal experience:”I saw the problems ravaging the whole transportation system in Lagos. One day I was going for an interview a year ago. I waited one hour for a bus with a group of 30 people. I struggled to get on the bus and got one of three seats left. I got to my drop-off bus stop and as I got off part of the bus tore my jacket. There’s a lack of comfort and safety. Over 11 million people go through issues like this on a daily basis. There’s also 2.5 million people who use cars every day but don’t want to use them”.

He sat down with a friend and had a brainstorm about how they might change things:”I thought what if we have a system where you can book your place on the bus online from the comfort of your own home. How can we come up with a solution that will work? What will it take? We brainstormed the idea and came up with a solution that allowed payment through a mobile wallet”.

The pricing sits between using an Uber and the ordinary Lagos bus and is aimed squarely at millenials and the middle classes. Depending on your journey, an Uber might cost you N1500 on a daily basis, a Plentywaka journey N500-600 and a cheaper bus N350-400.

Plentywaka was established in September 2019 and has, between a period of eight months, acquired a total of 51 vehicles, while moving over 2000+ riders daily on 7 routes with 100,000+ completed ride bookings, and 38,000+ downloads on its mobile app, earning N550,000 daily:” “We want to grow the numbers and provide a better user experience. We will increase fares gradually but we did free rides for 2 months to get people familiar with the product”.

“We suspended operations for 4-5 weeks and now have 8 riders on board to maintain social distancing. We have to adhere to the guidelines. The truth is that Covid-19 has reduced the numbers using public buses. We need to strictly follow the guidelines to prevent further spread”.

To survive, Plentywaka has had to put in place a whole series of new operating procedures:

- All buses were cleaned and fumigated to ensure that they were germ and virus free.

- The new service includes a reduced capacity and transporting schedule of 06:00 - 18:00, commuting only 8 riders (passengers) on the 14 seater buses and 16 riders on the 28 seater buses.

- A temporary increase in fares of between 20-25% has been applied to manage the limited-service being offered.

- Plentywaka’s preventative measures at the beginning of the pandemic in Lagos (i.e. placing hand sanitizers on buses upon boarding) will be continued. Disinfectant wipes and towels will also be used to clean the seats at regular intervals and in preparation for the following days’ service.

- Plentywaka pilots (drivers) and vehicle assistants have been instructed to wear face masks and gloves at all times. Riders will be encouraged to do the same.

While in transit, air conditioning will be turned off and riders with visible signs of illness will not be allowed on board.

In order to survive the challenges of Covid-19, it has announced an expansion of their services, the Plentywaka Staff Bus Solutions and it has also boosted its number of routes from 5 to seven:”Company staff will be able to book online and the company can either have a monthly or yearly subscription.”