Following the COVID-19 pandemic, governments and countries have placed new guidelines on businesses and industries to curtail the spread of the corona virus. Startups especially, in various sectors have had to make numerous changes to their operations to comply with the new changes. In this interview with Johnny Enagwolor, (MD and Co-Founder at Plentywaka), we talk about – amongst other things – how COVID-19 will affect the transport sector going forward.
COVID-19 hit quite every sector of the economy, but it hit some more than others. What are the significant changes that the transport sector has seen due to the pandemic?
One of the significant changes so far has been the mode of operations. This affects the seating arrangement as well as the health and safety measures being enforced both for drivers and passengers. Understandably, the public is more cautious, which means, for now, the immediate future we will see fewer commuters. Also, it has broadened our minds to see beyond offering just one type of service as many transport companies are now looking into building more products and offering services.
The pandemic and the consequential lockdown hit just six (6) months after PlentyWaka launched. Are there any specific consequences you have endured because of this?
We have been fortunate enough to have not been hit too hard during the suspension, aside putting a pause to operations during the lockdown which of course affected the revenue. Aside from that, the entire team used the time to consider how we can be better prepared for a crisis in the future as a business, by being more sustainable and positioned to offer support to communities. In addition, we have been working on the app and our customers should expect better service offerings when we roll out the updates in a few weeks.
What do you think the sector and operators like yourself could have done differently if you had known earlier on that this was coming? Do you think earlier awareness of the pandemic’s arrival could have prepared the sector better to mitigate the effects it has endured?
We were informed of the first COVID-19 case in Lagos on February 27th and I think the government acted quite swiftly after that. It is very easy to judge when not tasked with making difficult decisions. The most important thing for us and I would suppose all businesses, globally, is to have contingencies in place for a crisis. There is no better preparation for a pandemic than what we had and so, we appreciate the efforts of everyone that has helped us stay safe so far and we continue to support their work anyway we can.
It seems to make a lot of sense that non-essential movement/transportation was suspended, seeing how easy the disease spreads and the great need to contain its spread. With the announcement of partial easing of lockdowns in the country, what key policies, in line with information about the disease and how it spreads, are you putting in place as you resume services in the city?
In preparation for resuming service, our buses were disinfected and fumigated to ensure that they were germ and virus free. When we had the first known case of the virus in Lagos, we placed hand sanitizers on all buses which were used upon boarding, and we have continued with this. Disinfectant wipes and towels will also be used to clean the seats at regular intervals.
We have also adjusted the seating arrangement on our buses, reducing our capacity, at any given time, to only 8 riders on the 14-seater buses and 16 riders on the 28-seater buses.
All Plentywaka Pilots and Vehicle Assistants have been instructed to wear face masks and gloves at all times; we also implore our riders to do the same. While in transit, the air conditioning will be turned off and riders with visible signs of illness will not be allowed on board. We are hopeful that our efforts will help prevent the spread of the virus and we can in our own way help bring back some normalcy to people’s lives.
Moving forward, buses will be critical to the country’s recovery and re-starting our economy. How are you working together with other industry partners and the government on the measures needed to support one of the most important modes of public transport, and what steps are you taking to keep people safe and reassured?
We are constantly open to partnerships to improve the transportation system in the country. Plentywaka is positioned to provide the technology that will transform this sector and every day, we seek better ways of executing our mandate with the right partners and stakeholders.
But most importantly, we are diligently following the necessary health and safety guidelines for the safety of our passengers and staff. In doing so, we communicate regularly to our customers informing them of our practices and measures to help curtail the spread of the virus. Each time a passenger alights our bus they are met by a friendly driver wearing a mask and gloves and issuing hand sanitizer, this is reassuring riders.
From London to Kigali, and now Lagos, there has been a growing call for cities to begin exploring other eco-friendly modes of transportation, especially non-motorized transport and reducing the number of private vehicles and converting roads and parking lots to other public space needs and uses. Would you like to comment on this? How do you think your business will play in the future where public transportation is paramount and private vehicles are less encouraged?
Lagos and other major cities in Nigeria, desperately need the infrastructure to allow it to compete against other major cities around the world. To achieve this, an improved public transport system powered by technology will cut down on congestion in Lagos and significantly increase productivity in the state. This is where the team at Plentywaka is daily excited about building such solutions for the transportation sector. People from all walks of life should be able to leave their cars at home during the week. Our vision is to increase our fleet to meet the demands of the busy Lagosian so that we can offer more of our safe, clean, and reliable service.
What should Africa look forward to from you soon? What is the next big thing you are working on right now?
Now, we have just launched the Plentywaka Staff Bus Solutions to provide a safer means for corporate organizations to transport their staff to and from work. This is part of our vision to cut emissions and congestion, as well as increase productivity in Nigeria.
We are also working on new products/ services now which we would let the public know once conclusions have been made. But on a final note, our mandate is to use technology to improve the transportation sector and have a better experience for commuters, one customer, at a time that we serve.