Just A Guy And His Smartphone: Navigating Lagos With Uber, Taxify and Google Maps
Navigating Lagos with a smartphone
Welcome To Lagos!
I recently got the opportunity to visit Lagos, Nigeria on a work assignment. During breaks in my work schedule, I had the chance to observe the infamous city which many people I had talked to had described as a “tough place to live”.
This was my first time in Nigeria. I had a little anxiety about the whole journey and what to expect. But thankfully, technology was my best companion and my guide which helped to make the trip a little easier as far as moving around the city and finding my bearings.
In this article, I will be detailing how I managed to get around Lagos, booking rooms and apartments online, getting familiar with ride sharing apps (again) and frustrations with my mobile network on the day before I had to leave Lagos.
Wheels Down, Airbnb and Booking.com
I landed in Lagos on Wednesday afternoon. I was picked up from my airport at Ikeja by my work contct and was driven to my booked accomdation.
First thing I noticed as I was driven towards the place of stay was the similarity to the city I just flew in from.
Lagos is basically just a bigger Accra. It’s Accra 2.o. You just add more people, more crazy drivers and more buildings.
My living arrangements were booked through a combination of Airbnb and Booking.com. If you haven’t heard of Airbnb, it’s basically the “Uber” of apartment/room renting. Users or hosts can rent out rooms or spaces in their homes or apartments for a small fee. Booking.com is basically similar in nature.
It’s actually better than booking a hotel in my opinion especially if you’re coming in for a short stay as hotels tend to have higher prices. While a hotel may charge you $100 a night, an Airbnb host could charge you about $30 a night with some amenities including wireless internet and a washer and dryer.
My first living arrangements were in a place called Ikeja. I did some work in the area while staying there but it wasn’t too long before I was eventually move to Victoria Islands to complete a second portion of my work assignment.
My secondary living arrangements were booked through a combination of Airbnb/Booking.com. Overall, the places were good and living arrangements were pretty adequate.
Navigating Lagos With A Smartphone
Going to any city for the first time can make anybody anxious. It’s a whole new environment and you’re a bit out of your comfort zone. Being in Lagos was no exception.
But there were some things which helped with my anxiety. First of all, Lagos had street names and everyone uses to find buildings and locations. If you’re looking for a particular location in town, people don’t really give the whole “turn right at the waakye seller” type of directions like we do in Ghana. Nigerians will tell you to go “First Street” and look for “Building Number 20”. Honestly, Accra could learn a thing or two when it comes to locations and directions. We can’t keep doing the same old ad-hoc direction giving especially now that we have street signs posted at lots of locations around the city. It’s about time we started taking advantage.
Thank God for Google Maps! (Or actually, thank Google for Google Map)
One of the things that I found great about using Google Maps wasn’t just finding locations of where I could meet up with work contacts but also the fact that traffic updates work in Lagos. Google has an established office there and they’ve done lots of working on Maps including Street View and Traffic updates. With Google Maps, you can actually see how much traffic is on the road at particular times of the day thanks to data collection by Google and also use of location services.
At instance of when traffic updates worked was when I was on the way back to my accomdation after a work day. I got a notification on my phone about expected traffic while I was in an Uber. I checked the map and I could see the “red” lane indicating heavy traffic. Unfortunately, that was the only route I could take back to my place and I had to spend about an hour in traffic for a distance which would have taken about ten minutes at the most.
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So if you’re planning a trip, Google Maps is definitely a good help. That is, if the network isn’t suffering at that moment. But then again, Google Maps has an offline mode so that helps.
Battle Between Taxify and Uber
Apparently, there’s an ongoing battle between Uber and Taxify in Lagos. Taxify has been competing with Uber by having lower prices and giving more commission to drivers. Uber has responded by lower their own prices. Who will come out eventually winners in this battle is anyone’s guess.
So which one is best?
From my experience, Taxify worked best for me. For some odd reason, the GPS system my Uber rides were really weird with the Avatar vehicle on my map going all over the place. This bug (?) actually affects pricing because it made the distance actually longer which affects the price at the end of the trip. This has been a problem for others as well with riders contacting Uber for a refund for trips which seemed to be longer than the app suggested.
Another problem was finding Uber drivers. In some areas, there were hardly Uber drivers in the area and some appeared to be 14–15 mins most of the time.
But when I switched to Taxify, there were so MANY drivers on the map. It was like turning on a light in the kitchen and seeing roaches everywhere.
The Taxify experience was actually quite good for me when I used it.
But overall both Taxify and Uber drivers kept asking me about which routes they should take when driving to my final destinations. They never seemed keen on using the route that the map showed them.
Both Nigeria and Ghana seem have this problem with drivers not wanting to use mapping technology to get to the final destination.
If you’re a ride sharing platform coming to our part of the world, I think it would be best to have a long training session for your drivers before they let them go on the road. It saves riders from having to complain all the time.
No Data For You
Everything was going well in Nigeria until the day I was about to leave. I had a scheduled meeting and I had to call a Taxify to make my way to the meeting. But in the morning, the WiFi at the place I was staying was temporarily off and I had to resort to my smartphone. Unfortunately, I was getting no data. I can’t use Uber or Taxify. I can’t even send text messages. Thankfully, I could make calls and I had to call my work contact to ask them to send a Taxify to my place so I could get to my meeting.
For the rest of the day, I had sketchy network with my data connection coming on and off. Suffice to say, it was a frustrating day. It made me realize how I could actually be stuck in mobile data didn’t work.
Accra Vs Lagos
I learnt a lot from my visit in Lagos. I spoke to a lot of people as well as had conversations with some individuals at some startups.
One thing I liked about Lagos was the fact that even though it was a new territory for me. I could easily find my way thanks to my smartphone. I would just resort to Google Maps or find a street name and a building number. Even without my smartphone, I could still locate places by street names.
I can’t say the same in Accra where we tend to rely on landmarks and sketchy directions. But Lagos does have its share of problems especially when it comes to mobile network service. There were several times that my smartphone would display an “LTE” connection and then jump down to “Edge” while I was in the same spot. (Yes, Lagos has 4G LTE services, FYI).
And yes, Lagos can be crazy when it comes to traffic and everyone on the road is an aggressive driver.
But as far as tech opportunities, there are many which I could not explore. I managed to get a contact at Andela in Nigeria but a meeting couldn’t be scheduled because he was out of town. I also didn’t get a chance to visit the infamous Computer Village in Yaba, Ikeja (hopefully that will be for a future trip). But I did visit WorkStation, a work sharing space which is similar to WeWork. It was a very cool place to visit and even had a chat with someone who was working from there who was building a music streaming platform.
Overall, it was a good trip. Learned a lot. There are a LOT of things happening in Lagos which a platform like Tech Nova would love to cover and publish. But for now, the focus will be covering the tech scene in Ghana as we also have a lot of things happening here as well.
Who knows, maybe there will be a Tech Nova set up in Nigeria in the near future…. fingers crossed.
Original Post was written on TechNovaGh.com