The Shiashi-East Legon trotro

The Shiashi-East Legon trotro and taxi station, Accra. The picture shows a trotro and taxi station in Accra, the taxi terminal being indicated by the blue and grey tents. Source: authors’ fieldwork

In a paper published in ‘Case studies on Transport Policy’ , Paola Pasquali, Hadrien Commenges and Thomas Louail present the results of an investigation intended to provide a multi-faceted account of how e-hailing platforms have blended into the system of actors who operate urban mobility in Ghana’s capital Accra. The paper focuses on three aspects: the adaptation of platforms to the Ghanaian context, the work conditions of e-hailing drivers in Accra and their agency, and the essential role of car owners to sustain the rise of platforms in Global South cities.

In 2016, Uber began operations in Ghana’s capital Accra, a rapidly urbanizing city characterized by high demand for urban mobility. Uber’s entry was soon followed by the arrival of other e-hailing companies, both foreign and local. A few years later, e-hailing is such a popular phenomenon that small economy cars in Ghana – the cars typically used for this type of business – are now often described as “Uber cars.” Meanwhile, “Uber driver” has become a popular job for dozens of thousands of (mostly) young men. Building upon interviews conducted with public and private actors – including e-hailing drivers, taxi drivers, customers, platforms employees, drivers’ unions representatives, local investors, and regulators – the paper details the conditions and consequences of e-hailing platforms installation in Accra. We find that competition among platforms apparently contributed to lower ride prices for customers, to the detriment of e-hailing drivers. Although facing many constraints, we find that e-hailing drivers have leveraged on the competition among platforms to make claims for better work conditions.

This research also reveals that the likes of Uber and Bolt are not simply about international investments by multinational platform companies in countries such as Ghana. As a matter of fact, these platforms could not exist, nor survive, if not for the day-to-day investments made by local car owners and drivers. More at large, the paper argues that the future of e-hailing platforms in Ghana depends on a broader system of actors– platforms, drivers, passengers, regulators, car owners, international investors, etc. We conclude that shifts in this system may substantially reshape the functioning and way of operating of platforms, as well as their impact on e-hailing drivers’ work conditions.

This article is based on the work done by Paola Pasquali during her postdoctoral research at Géographie-cités in 2020, that was co-supervised by Hadrien Commenges and Thomas Louail, members of Géographie-cités. Paola Pasquali had been awarded in 2019 a EHESS grant “The digital turn in mobility and urban planning”. For this work she has done a two months fieldwork in Accra, Ghana, during which she has conducted about thirty individual interviews with different actors of daily mobility in Accra – including e-hailing drivers, taxi drivers, customers, platforms employees, drivers’ unions representatives, local investors and regulators. Paola is now an associate member of the laboratory, and as of last year she was a professor at Webster University in Accra, Ghana.

P. Pasquali, H. Commenges and T. Louail. It’s a three-way ring”: E-hailing platforms, drivers and riders reshaping Accra’s mobility landscape. Case Studies on Transport Policy
Volume 10, Issue 3, September 2022, p. 1743-1753