In the absence of Uber and Bolt, inDrive has become a popular way to access public transport services in Gaborone, Botswana. 

For *Botshelo, a 23-year-old unemployed accounting graduate, inDrive has become so valuable for him as a driver that he is no longer interested in job-hunting. Having initially launched in Botswana in December 2019, inDrive is now a hit with both drivers and passengers in the capital city of Botswana.

inDrive lets drivers and passengers determine their fares rather than using prices determined by algorithms. Passengers can suggest a fare, while drivers may accept, decline, or make a counteroffer without any penalties. The decision on whether to proceed with a ride can be made by considering the fare amount, car type, estimated arrival time, and driver ratings. Drivers can select profitable and convenient requests.

“On a good month, I can clock about P6,000 (~$440) net pay without even having to work like twelve hours a day,” Botshelo told TechCabal. “With that, why would I go look for a job where I will most probably be getting paid P2,000 (~$147) for 25 days of almost 12-hour shifts?” 

Despite launching in the country almost four years ago, inDrive still does not charge its drivers in Botswana a commission. The initiative, which is meant to be an introductory offer to entice drivers, usually lasts for six months but in Botswana, inDrive has continued with it indefinitely.

inDrive states that the reason why the introductory offer has gone on for so long is that the company’s launch strategy in new markets unfolds through several active stages. The team conducts market research and if a positive assessment is given they transition to the second stage which is establishing a local community of users through elevating brand awareness and expanding the user base.

“Once we have successfully navigated the initial phases and garnered a substantial understanding and recommendation readiness from the community regarding our business model, we initiate the third phase,” Vincent Lilane, business development representative at inDrive, Southern Africa told TechCabal. “The final step is the monetisation stage, which we will commence when we ascertain that people are sufficiently familiar with our brand and are prepared to endorse our service to their acquaintances.”

According to Lilane, in order to “[promote] inclusivity in the mobility sector” in Botswana, the commission will be introduced with a maximum limit of 10%.Prior to the arrival of inDrive in Botswana, for transportation, most commuters in Gaborone had the option of using “taxi specials” which operated as private cab services. According to some of these commuters who spoke to TechCabal, inDrive has proven to be a much more financially sensible and convenient service.

“The issue with cabs in this city is that they are unreliable and they take advantage of desperate commuters,” one commuter told TechCabal. “They can charge you whatever amount they want especially at night because you have no other option. At least with inDrive I can negotiate and pick the most affordable driver.”

Challenges in Botswana

For Botshelo, the main challenge he had when he started with inDrive with a lack of experience in how to harness the most value from the service. For starters, according to him, one has to be smart with which rides they accept so they do not eat too much into their margin.

“When I started, I would just accept rides because the offered money was high. But if the clients are far when you do the math, you find out that those rides are actually eating on your margins mainly because of the fuel expense associated,” he said. Since learning the tricks of the trade, Botshelo adds that he usually focuses on a radius which would give him the most margins.

There is also the security issue where sometimes, drivers can get robbed by passengers. To address that issue, some drivers have resorted to having what they refer to as “bodyguards” who travel around with them for night rides. One of those is *Otsile, who says that it is a small price to pay for not just one’s car and valuables, but their life.

“You have to be careful about who you pick up, especially on weekend nights and early mornings. Although I have yet to experience it myself, there are cases where drivers have been robbed, especially by male passengers. It’s just the nature of the business and it’s better to be safe than sorry,” he told TechCabal.

The other challenge is Gaborone’s relatively small ride-hailing market which makes business hard to come by especially on weekdays and in the middle of the month. To deal with that, some drivers, instead of just relying on inDrive for business, use it as an avenue to procure customers for their “taxi special” business. According to them, this saves them time of having to always negotiate with new customers and also hedges against poor business days.

“When you provide a good ride, sometimes customers would ask you to be their permanent cab service provider for going to work or dropping their children at school,” one driver told TechCabal. “These are more valuable clients especially when business is slow on inDrive.”

The future of inDrive in Botswana

inDrive is currently only available in the capital city of Gaborone. According to Lilane, the expansion will only be pursued as the company’s brand gets more engrained in the psyches of Batswana.

“Currently, our primary objective is to firmly establish our presence in Gaborone. While we continually foster ambitions to expand our reach beyond this area, it is crucial that we focus wholeheartedly on Gaborone to ensure our foundation there is strong and sustainable,” Lilane said. “By doing so, we lay down a robust groundwork that will not only benefit our current endeavours but will also facilitate future expansions effectively when the right time comes.”

For drivers like Botshelo, the ride-hailing service is an earnest way to earn a living in a country where most young people are either underemployed or unemployed. Additionally, it is also a convenient way to partake in public transportation without the licensing and other requirements that come with traditional public transport.

“inDrive can be valuable, especially when you are committed to it. The company also has monthly bonuses if you brand your car with its colours or complete a certain number of rides,” added Botshelo. “I see it as a great way to make a living, especially in this city where jobs are scarce and the cost of living is crazy.”

For passengers, despite some isolated issues of less-than-hygienic and questionably roadworthy cars, inDrive is a welcome development in a country without the convenience of Uber and Bolt.

“I think inDrive is great in Botswana. Apart from being a great convenience and also affordable, it shows gore le rona mo Botswana re ntse ra thabologa re tshwana le mahatshe a mangwe (it shows that Botswana is also developing and becoming like other countries),” another commuter told TechCabal.

*Sources’ names have been changed.

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