Uber is currently targeting fast-growing West African markets. The global ride-hailing firm operates in a number of countries in East and Southern Africa but is largely absent from West Africa, aside from Nigeria and Ghana. The firm is in talks with regulators over plans to expand into Ivory Coast and Senegal and provide a boat service in Nigerian megacity Lagos, a company executive said on Thursday.
In much of Sub-Saharan Africa, there are low levels of personal car ownership, rapidly expanding populations and a lack of efficient mass transport systems in fast-growing cities. Uber has 36,000 active drivers in sub-Saharan Africa.
Speaking of the expansion into West Africa, Chief Business Officer Brooks Entwistle told Reuters, "Both Abidjan and Dakar are logical opportunities for us," adding that discussions were at an early stage. He did not disclose further details. "We have talked about West Africa today as being a big growth priority for us and launch priority for us moving forward," said Entwistle.
According to the IMF, Ivory Coast and Senegal have two of the world's fastest-growing economies. Nigeria is Africa's largest economy and the continent's most populous nation.
A number of motorcycle ride-hailing firms have also targeted West Africa as an area for expansion in the last few months.
Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, a megacity of around 20 million inhabitants built on a lagoon where Uber began operating in July 2014, has a problem with traffic congestion. Entwistle indicated that the company was in talks with state regulators about providing a transport system on the city's waterways as a way of bypassing its choked roads. "We are looking at the waterways here, which are very interesting to us as it relates to a potential service," said Entwistle.
The company has launched a boat service in the Indian city of Mumbai in the last few months.
"We did launch Uber Boat in Mumbai and we have watched the product develop. It's in its early stages and we think there is high relevance here," he said, referring to Lagos.
Entwistle, who described Lagos as "one of the great growth opportunity cities in the world", said the company has also held discussions with a bus firm and regulators in the city. He said the talks were in line with a global push by the company to develop products that can work alongside public transit systems.
Entwistle said the combination of population growth and congestion made Lagos, and other cities in the region, attractive. According to the UN, Nigeria's population will more than double to 400 million by 2050. This would make it the third most populous country in the world after China and India.
In Africa, Uber faces competition from Bolt, an Estonian ride-hailing firm which was, until recently, called Taxify.
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