Are Digital Labour Platforms like Uber Significantly Different from the Traditional Taxi Industry?

To respond to this question, I will use three main characteristics to highlight the differences and similarities between the traditional taxi industry and the ride-hailing platform industry in Lagos, particularly regarding drivers’ experiences.[1]

Vehicle Access

Access to taxis such as the Yellow taxis between the 1990s to 2007, was mainly done in-person.  Throughout the city, yellow taxis had designated car parks where each driver had to write down their name on a roster and wait in their vehicles for passengers. For drivers, picking up trips was on a turn-by-turn basis. A passenger walks into the park, identifies a destination of choice, and the driver will state the cost of the journey, usually a little higher than the going rate. For example, a passenger requesting to be taken to Victoria Island, a prominent Central Business District in Lagos, from Victoria Garden City, which is about 20km away. The driver could quote a fee of N10,000 (£18), and the passenger would refute this amount and haggle the price down to an affordable rate of about N4,000 (£7). In certain instances, drivers can get away with this, especially for passengers who are not familiar with the route. In speaking to traditional taxi drivers, they highlight this as a critical strategy for surpassing their daily and weekly targets. However, when a driver refuses to accept a reduced price by a passenger, the job could fall to the next willing driver in the queue.

For ride-hailing platforms such as Uber, which emerged in Nigeria in 2014, accessing the vehicle was done simply via the platform app.[2] The platform app acts as an intermediary between passengers and drivers, removing the need to hail a vehicle, haggle for prices, and track trips. The only resource required is the smartphone, which algorithmically matches passengers’ demand and drivers’ supply. For example, if passenger A requests a trip via the app, the algorithm will sort for the nearest available driver, usually within 2km, and the driver is expected to accept. Sometimes, the driver may cancel the request due to traffic, low fares, or other unforeseen circumstances.

With ride-hailing platforms like Uber, the cost of the trip was often cheaper than traditional taxis, which quickly made it more accessible and popular amongst users.

Networks of Solidarity

Traditional taxi parks were coordinated by unions such as the Road Transport Employers Association (RTEAN), Lagos State Taxi Drivers and Cab Operators (LSTDCOA) and so forth.[3] Drivers are meant to belong to at least one union to access taxi parks as well as pay monthly dues to union executives. Without being part of a faction, drivers often have to ply the road to be accessed by passengers. This would usually mean drivers are operating illegally, according to an interview with the former transport policymaker Mustapha in December 2018.  The dues collected from drivers often do not trickle down to supporting the affairs of drivers in terms of the provision of social security and safety nets.[4] However, the drivers who are part of unions and designated taxi parks undergo monthly meetings with the scope of supporting each other, lobbying for improved recognition from the State and for social protection provisions for taxi drivers.

Ride-hailing platforms entirely dismantle the need for unions and networks of socialisation or solidarity. Being classified as independent contractors or driver-partners, the business model embodies working isolation, such that drivers are typically not attached to traditional unions or taxi parks. Drivers are not required to pay monthly dues because their contributions are institutionalised via the app as commissions per trip. For example, Uber takes 25% of commission after every trip. However, the isolating nature of ride-hailing platform work has led to virtual communities such as social media and communication networks (e.g., Facebook and WhatsApp groups), facilitating collective learning about their work and resistance strategies against algorithmic control. It has further boosted the formation of collective worker groups, associations, and platform unions, and is reducing work isolation and helping the demand for decent working conditions for all drivers.

Payment and Ownership Models

The traditional taxi industry in Lagos operated mainly on three ownership models. One is the hire-purchase model, where an individual purchases a vehicle, does the necessary paperwork and employs a driver who pays to own the vehicle ultimately. The second is the lease or rental model, where drivers pay weekly sums to rent the vehicle, which was not common in the traditional taxi industry. Thirdly, outright ownership, i.e., drivers who bought their vehicles without any financial arrangements with third parties.

In the traditional taxi industry, all three ownership models were common and to some extent facilitated by the Lagos State Government. Taxis were acquired from the Lagos State government and corporate entities. For example, between 2009 to 2015, the former governor of Lagos State, Babajide Tunde Fashola, facilitated jobs for over 1000 drivers with fleets of taxis using funds from the Union Bank of Nigeria and the Lagos-Microfinance Scheme.[5]Drivers are given these vehicles and expected to pay weekly sums to own it after three to four years. Based on the economy between the 1990s to early 2000s, there is no accurate account of how much drivers were meant to remit to vehicle owners. However, based on interviews, there was an agreed weekly remittance to vehicle owners. There were no social media platforms to advertise such opportunities. It was based on trust and, in rare instances, advertisements in newspapers. Trust was only built on a track record of meeting weekly targets with little or no complaints. However, it was not transparent for vehicle owners to see how much drivers made. Vehicle owners manually managed taxis, with guarantors serving as a medium of transparency and accountability, but not enough to facilitate trust. One interviewee (2019), Taiwo (61), an elderly taxi driver, highlighted that taxi drivers made over N30,000 (£52) after costs with only a few daily trips. Taxi drivers did not have to work incessantly to make ends meet. Vehicle owners had to believe the narratives of what drivers were making weekly to negotiate weekly payments. Considering most traditional taxi drivers were under taxi unions, it was easier to collectively agree not to disclose the accurate sum of drivers’ weekly earnings.

While ride-hailing platforms embodied similar ownership models, the labour process was more quantifiable due to data and algorithmic functionalities. For instance, the dashboard on ride-hailing platform interfaces shows detailed breakdown of drivers hourly, weekly and monthly activities which boosts transparency for vehicle owners which can lead to overworking, i.e., working longer hours than expected compared to traditional taxi drivers. From interviews in this study, platform drivers noted the need for their colleagues not to post dashboards showing weekly earnings, because this gives vehicle owners and rental companies more negotiating power to demand higher weekly remunerations. It also facilitated a complicated subcontracting arrangement between drivers and the actual vehicle owner which can be classified as a third-party or proxy ownership. The vehicle owner puts an experienced driver or a non-driver in charge of a fleet of vehicles, with drivers having to make payments via the proxy.[6]  For example, speaking with Ewoma, a legal practitioner, highlighted how the payment structure and works. Ewoma. managed at least 13 Uber/Bolt drivers, where they had to pay N35,000 (£61) weekly to her, and she pays N30,000 (£52) to the vehicle owner and keeps N5000 as the management fee. Within the drivers she managed, she highlighted one driver who also managed two other drivers, which facilitated more precarious pathways in making payments towards vehicle usage or ownership.


I will conclude by noting that while ride-hailing platforms appear to be rather different from the traditional taxi industry of Lagos, they have created new problems and not wholly solved old challenges in the taxi industry. While there are more factors elsewhere that show the differences between platforms and traditional taxis, this blog has only intricately discussed three as summarised in Table 1.

Table 1: The Difference between Traditional Taxis and Ride-hailing Platform Gig Work

  FactorsGig Work in Lagos
Vehicle AccessPassenger access is by hailing a cab or receiving callsA push of a button on a smartphone; trips are assigned based on ratings and as a function of demand and supply
Fare calculation is based on the driver’s discretion or haggling, and payment is often in cashCalculated automatically by algorithms and paid in cash or via the app
Networks of SolidarityUnion dues monthly payment and meetingsNot mandatory for platform drivers.
Union or association membership to boost collective bargaining.Working in isolation due to independent contracts.
Union dues monthly payment and meetingsNot compulsory for drivers.
Assigned to motor parksNo assignment of parks
Managing the labour process outside a taxi park is based on the driver’s discretion and knowledge of the cityAlgorithmically managed with integrated maps and GPS tracking
Payment and Ownership ModelsOwnership models especially hire-purchase and leasing models were straightforward for drivers.Payment and ownership models became transparent but more complicated for drivers.

For instance, the hope that technology and information will improve the insecurity and lack of safety has not happened. Platform drivers are now exposed to higher levels of kidnapping, robbery, assault, and death.[7] This is inherent in the fact that taxi driving, whether online or offline, is risky. Platform drivers still choose to work offline to game the system and improve their earnings, thereby exposing them to similar risks as traditional taxi drivers. Drivers are working more now than 10 to 15 years ago because of more information and avenues for vehicle owners and platform companies to track working behaviours. This does not indicate that platforms earn significantly higher than their counterparts, considering that they often offer cheap fares as a competitive strategy. It indicates that ride-hailing platforms are a different kind of traditional taxis only because of the advantage of technology. While some differences are external to the socio-technical system of platforms as highlighted, the experiences of drivers are often similar. Therefore, the question for the future will be, how can digital labour platforms be significantly better than traditional taxis?

[1] Most of the Insights in this blog draws from my fieldwork between 2018 to 2019, and my PhD thesis.

[2] This was the day Uber arrived in Lagos, Nigeria.

[3] Albert, I. O. (2007). NURTW and the Politics of Motor Parks in Lagos and Ibadan. In L. Fourchard (Ed.), Gouverner les villes d’Afrique. Etat, gouvernement local et acteurs privés. Paris: Karthala.

[4] Agbiboa, D.E. (2017). Mobile Bodies of Meaning: City Life and the Horizons of Possibility. Journal of Modern African Studies, 55(3), pp.371–393.

[5] Nairaland (2009) Fashola Commissions 1,200 Cabs. Pictures – Politics – Nigeria, Available at:  

[6] Interview with Ewoma in July 2019. Ewoma still did this side-gig until 2022, because it was profitable for her. Many of the vehicle owners, were too busy to manage the affairs of drivers.

[7] Fairwork (2022): Working in the Nigerian Ride-hailing Sector: Fairwork Ratings 2021/22. Oxford and Berlin.


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