LAGOS (Reuters) – Global ride-sharing company Uber Technologies Inc is in talks with regulators over plans to expand in two West African countries and provide a boat service in the Nigerian megacity of Lagos , a company executive said Thursday.
Across much of sub-Saharan Africa, there are low rates of personal car ownership, rapidly growing populations, and a lack of efficient mass transportation systems in rapidly growing cities.
Uber, which said it has 36,000 active drivers in sub-Saharan Africa, operates in a number of countries in East and Southern Africa but is largely absent from West Africa, with the exception of Nigeria. and Ghana.
The company has identified the region as a potential expansion target, chief commercial officer Brooks Entwistle told Reuters. He said the company was in talks with regulators in Ivory Coast and Senegal regarding the possible launch of services.
“Abidjan and Dakar are logical opportunities for us,” Entwistle said, adding that talks are still in their infancy. He did not disclose further details.
“We talked about West Africa today as being a big growth priority for us and a launch priority for us going forward,” Entwistle said.
Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal have two of the fastest growing economies in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund. Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, is also the continent’s most populous country.
A number of motorcycle transport companies have also targeted West Africa as an area for expansion in recent months.
Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, a megacity of about 20 million people built on a lagoon where Uber began operating in July 2014, is plagued by severe congestion.
Entwistle, who spoke to Reuters during an interview in Lagos, said the company was in talks with state regulators to provide a transport system on the city’s waterways to bypass its roads crowded.
“We’re looking at the waterways here, which are very interesting to us for potential service,” Entwistle said.
The company launched a boat service in the Indian city of Mumbai in recent months.
“We launched Uber Boat in Mumbai and saw the product grow. It is in its early stages and we think there is great relevance here,” he said, referring to Lagos.
The Uber executive, who described Lagos as “one of the cities with the best opportunities for growth in the world”, said the company had also held discussions with a bus company and city regulators.
He said the talks are part of a global push by the company to develop products that can work with mass transit systems.
Entwistle said the combination of population growth and congestion made Lagos and other towns in the region attractive.
The United Nations projects that Nigeria’s population will more than double to 400 million by 2050, making it the third most populous country in the world after China and India.
Uber faces fierce competition in African cities from Estonian public transport company Bolt, which until early 2019 was called Taxify. Bolt has grabbed business largely by taking a smaller share of drivers using its app.
Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Jan Harvey