The boda boda business is one where a person is almost certainly assured of making some money, enough to feed their family and because the traffic situation is not getting any better, more passengers are opting to use these bikes, despite their nickname of death-on-wheels.
Visible on nearly every street corner in Dar es Salaam, the number of Boda Boda riders has skyrocketed in recent years, making it one of the fastest growing businesses in Tanzania. This influx has caused some Dar es Salaam residents to wonder if the boda market has reached a saturation point in which the supply of riders outpaces passenger demand. Despite the swelling number of riders, most people agree that the boda boda business is still fairly profitable.
According to Simon Swai, “There are too many riders, but there are also too many passengers. Customers are everywhere and every boda rider I know makes money.”
Peter Magai agrees with that assessment. “There are not many [riders] who can’t make money. As long as you have a stage and a nice bike in good condition, it’s easy for you to make money.
Most riders in Dar es Salaam can take home at least Shs15,000 per day and Shs450,000 per month in profit, while ambitious, hard-working, and lucky drivers can earn even more. “It depends on how lucky you are,” Swai said. “It’s like hunting. The boda boda business is all about hunting. Lucky riders that find passengers who pay more than they should can earn up to Shs100,000 per day.”
On average, drivers spend at least Shs8,000 per day on fuel and Shs50,000 per month maintaining their bikes. Around half of the riders in Dar es Salaam rent their motorcycles at a rate of Shs60,000 per week, but even those who rent their bikes are able to earn a profit. Because the wages in the boda boda business greatly exceed those for other low-skilled jobs in sectors like construction, security, and retail, many young men flock to the boda industry from other professions.
New riders flock to the industry because it is profitable and relatively easy to enter. To operate legally, boda riders need a driver’s licence, third-party insurance, motor Vehicle license (PSV). But in reality, many drivers enter the market without the required documentation. “You don’t necessarily need anything [to get started] because there is no enforcement,” Temba says. “A lot of guys will just show up one day and start riding a motorcycle. I think that’s the cause of a lot of dangerous driving and bad behaviour.”
Safety, lack of regulation, and corruption by traffic police are some of the biggest concerns for boda boda riders. Accidents are the biggest obstacle.
“Bad things can happen at night,” Swai says. He is talking from experience. In September, he was attacked after dropping off a passenger on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam. Around midnight, two assailants threw a log in front of his boda, causing him to crash, and they assaulted him and stole his money.
For drivers and passengers alike, taking boda bodas at night can be risky, but there are few alternatives after taxis and buses stop running around midnight. Even during the day, riding on a boda is dangerous, especially when bodas weave through heavy traffic and drive on the wrong side of the road.