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Mobile Applications

Cameroon: Dangerous taxis drive the rise of local apps

A change in public transport is taking place through major Cameroonian cities. This is because startups are now vying for passengers in what was previously an almost exclusive taxi-zone.

These days, if you don’t want to hail a cab via the conventional method in major Cameroonian cities like Yaoundé and Douala, you can get a cab by using the cardispo app. And if you don’t want to use public transport to commute between popular towns, you can consider the cheaper option of carsharing with somebody going to the same destination on very short notice by visiting covoiturage.cm.

Uber still does not operate in Cameroon. But interestingly, more ventures existed three years ago. And didn’t all survive. Such is the case of Yaoundé Taxi on Twitter, which hasn’t been active since the end of 2014. Then there was – what was allegedly – a Cameroonian branch of Liftago. This was a mobile app that gave you freedom to choose from offers of licensed taxi drivers in your vicinity by their price, car or ratings by their previous customers. It disappeared prematurely, leaving mostly dead ends on the internet.

Now some people are shying away from ordinary taxis due to the increasing rate of crime taking place within then both during the day and night. So the cardispo app and the covoiturage website couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

 

What do these Cameroonian services offer?

Covoiturage is a carsharing platform which enables people who intend to travel to the same destination to find one another and split the transport fare. Anyone can insert an ad or message made up of a destination, as well as the day and time of travel on the website and this can be done by either the owner of a car or a passenger without a car. Browsing the website to check out the various travel options is free, as well as registration before posting an ad.

The platform was launched in September 2013 by Joel Alain Tsemo Kamga, an electrical engineer based in Darmstadt, Germany to “facilitate the movement of Cameroonians both within Cameroon and bordering countries”.

In an interview with Afro Tech mag, he said “the platform enables users to save time given that everything can be planned in advance and they no longer have to wait for hours in public transport agencies.” Joel added that “the platform covers almost all of Cameroonian territory, as well as some towns found in neighboring countries.”

Another techie who intends to transform the public transport milieu in Cameroon is Bruno Soufo, with an app called cardispo. This enables Cameroonians with (and without) a smartphone to book a cab if they are in certain cities such as Douala, Bafoussam and Limbe.

If you’re are using a smartphone, the booking process consists of installing and launching the cardispo app, entering a location and destination, choosing the type of travel, entering the departure time and personal information such as name, email and phone number. The cost (which starts from 5USD) depends on the type of service requested and the payment methods include mobile money and cash paid to the driver.

“The idea hit me one day, during a sojourn at a hotel in Douala,” says Bruno, “My town is Yaoundé and I don't know Douala very well, so it’s not easy for me to move in Douala. I needed a taxi to go to a meeting and asked the receptionist to call a taxi for me, but was told that it wasn’t possible. Consequently, I had to go to the road and hail a cab by myself and it was a very unpleasant experience because of the excruciating heat.”

The experience made Bruno realize that one couldn’t book a cab from the internet or through a mobile app in Cameroon and that was an epiphany and the starting point of his project. He later shared the idea with a couple of programmer friends and all of them found it very useful for the security and comfort of Cameroonian passengers.

Bruno prides himself in the security that his startup provides customers. They do a background check on all their drivers and carefully vet them based on their morality and recommendations. Nkengfack Michael, a regular customer confirms this, saying, “The first time I used cardispo the driver was very welcoming and waited for me despite my lateness and he called me several times to find out where I was. Since then, I always feel secure whenever I use cardispo because they are well organized and better than public transport.”

Cardispo and covoiturage might well be the only Cameroonian startups to focus on the transport sector, but despite their popularity, a great number of Cameroonians are unaware of their services, and some who are aware shy away from them because prices can seem expensive. Even so an increase in startups in the transport sector makes conditions better for commuters all over Cameroon because they offers more choices and easier access to transport.

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Dzekashu MacViban

Dzekashu MacViban is a freelance journalist and has written for the Ann Arbor Review of Books, Fashizblack, Goethe.de, and PalaPala among others.

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