8 February 2015

Hafiz Adewuyi

The Car/Cab sharing idea

I'm sitting in a traditional yellow taxi, quite comfortably, as a matter of fact, in the owner's corner. Never mind that I once used to hold people who I saw doing this in disdain. The cab has the mouldy smell that is characteristic of a rickety Lagos taxi. So, in a bid to get the freshest air I can afford in this situation, into my system, I'm postured towards the right-back window of the saloon car, facing the window directly. This means that a good amount of my attention is on the happenings on the surrounding roads.


I had left my source at closing hour, typical rush hour when virtually everyone hits the road. As usual, the bystanders at Bonny camp bus-stop of Victoria Island are in their hordes. They are waiting for the next bus, which when it eventually arrives, will take only the strongest to make it in, after a nasty episode of push and shove. I take a look at the array of generally young and attractive people at the bus-stop, ranging from the bank worker in his suit and tie, to the food vendor who is much less glamorously dressed. I feel a deep sense of empathy at the inconvenient but self-accepted plight of each of these people.

Another thing I feel is a noteworthy degree of guilt at the fact that three more people would fit conveniently into the taxi I sat in. And with this amount of people waiting for a bus, there's no doubt that there is at least, one person whose destination lies in my route. I stare at them, they stare back. Me, with an urge in my heart to assist someone by inviting them into my cab. An urge, quelled by my unwillingness to do anything out of my comfort zone. I realise that to satisfy my urge, I'd first have to confront the taxi driver, to try to convince him to agree to let another passenger - a stranger - into his cab. I don't know what is in their minds as they stare back at me, but my ego tells me they think I'm a lucky chap. My ego is fanned a little, even though I know I'm only privileged to be taking a cab home.

Stepping out of my flat last Monday while setting out for work, my thoughts were in line with what they are now. In that case, I was the pedestrian who wished there was someone nearby, going my way and who had a free space in their car they were willing to share. I was running late for work, and the sure fastest way to get to work was in a private automobile (no stopovers, no trekking from one bus-stop to the next, no waiting for the next bus to fill). Of course, for the mere fact that most of the better jobs in Lagos are on the island, the chance was high that at least, a few people fit my benefactor criteria, within a radius of three kilometres of my home. Okay, I'm not sure about the willing to help part, mostly because it's hard to trust anyone in these hard times in this part of the world.  

What if there was an app that makes it easier for me to help pedestrians when I'm privileged to do so. An app that bridges the divide between vehicle owners who do not mind helping a stranger on a ride, and the pedestrian, who trusts that the city is pretty safe, and in his own instincts. 

Surely, the primary challenge of such a venture would be to how to get a user to trust another, enough to either accept his help or to offer him help. The expected default stance of potential users is: "sceptical of the intent of every other user". More so, for the pedestrians who would have to trust the motorist not to be a kidnapper, a consultant for witch doctors. Witch doctors around here, at the service of greedy men and power-thirsty politicians, are purported use victims of kidnap as key ingredients in diabolical money rituals. A good volume of work will need to be done - after making this platform available - to accredit users, and rank them on some well thought out trustworthiness scale. I imagine that basic trust accreditation would require the administration team to examine each user's social network profiles e.g Facebook and LinkedIn. 

Perhaps, an ability of users to review other users on the platform after having helped or being helped by them, would also go a long way in separating the trustworthy ones from the dubious ones over time. Eventually, the network would have enough accredited users for things to start moving pretty much on their own. This is in the assumption, of course, that the major reason why most people would not give rides to or accept rides from strangers is because they fear for their safety. The other day, my friend narrated how many an innocent motorist in Ibadan has been lynched by a mob, after giving a child/children a lift, who it turned out got missing after he dropped them. 

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