When Peter Ndolo lost his job due to the Covid-19 pandemic, going into boda boda business seemed like the only survival option.
His employer at a company in Nairobi’s Industrial area had shut down operations citing dwindling revenues that could not sustain staff salaries.
Luckily for Mr Ndolo, he already had a motorbike which he had been using to commute to work and would occasionally offer transport services to customers during his off days.
Mr Ndolo represents a multitude of Kenyans who have ventured into boda boda business.
“The beauty with boda boda is that it has very little restrictions when starting off,” said Samuel Munyiri, the Boda boda Association of Kenya chairman at the Nakuru branch.
A boda boda costs between Sh58,000 and Sh150,000. Because of their affordability, many youth across cities, towns and rural areas continue to acquire them.
Economic Survey 2020 shows boda bodas and tuk tuk registration in the past year rose by 22,172 units, defying tough economic times that has hit most Kenyans.
Maria Ocharo, a trader, says it is easier, faster and cheaper to get supplies from Nyahururu’s Mlango Market to her stall at Madaraka estate by using boda bodas.
“It is also easier for a motorbike to maneuver the rough and rugged terrain that leads to the estate,” she says.
Looking to cash in on the growing sector, technology firms Glovo, Uber and Bolt introduced boda boda service as a fast parcel delivery service and transport for individuals looking to beat the city traffic.
While the boda boda sub-sector is praised for creation of employment and easily accessing certain areas where taxis and matatus cannot, it has also been blamed for increased crime.
Incidents of men on boda boda snatching phones and handbags from ladies and speeding off have been reported in several parts of the country.
Boda boda operators, just like hawkers and street families have also taken over footbridges, especially in Nairobi, as the pedestrian opt to cross the road below, endangering their lives.
“The footbridge is a shortcut to the other side of the road and I also avoid getting stuck in traffic,” said a boda boda rider at the Cabanas crossing, Mombasa Road.
The boda bodas have also been the main cause of accidents in cities and towns. In 2019, there was a 41 per cent surge in boda boda accidents where 348 passengers were killed, compared to 247 reported in 2018.
Rider deaths rose by 22.7 per cent during the period to stand at 725 from 591 in 2018.
Major hospitals have since set up trauma centres to accommodate the rising number of seriously injured riders and pillion passengers, further denting Kenya’s health budget.
As this happens, Nairobi’s central business district centre is getting clogged with emerging boda boda parking lots painting a picture of a sector spinning out of control so fast that police have run out of options on how to rein it in.
In September last year, Nakuru county government evicted matatu operators from the central business district, in a move that cut revenue for allied service providers such as hawkers.
As the police battled it out with the matatu operators, bodaboda riders were cashing in on the crisis by transporting stranded passengers to their destinations to and from CBD.