| © A Zmall delivery courier stands next to his motorcycle. The company has hired 75 youth to work as delivery agents for its e-commcerce app.

Ethiopia Taxi (ETTA), one of the first taxi-hailing service providers, has diversified into providing courier services with its latest creation, Zmall, an e-commerce and delivery application.

ETTA Solutions Plc, the tech company behind ETTA and Shekla, the music player and store, is now giving taxi services only to corporate clients and has stopped providing them to the general public. The company started a taxi-hailing service in 2016 with the hope of expanding but paused the business segment five months ago.

"Things didn't go as smooth as we had expected and pushed us to shift our attention to other software services," said Temesgen Gebrehiwot (PhD), founder and managing director of the company.

The company now focuses on Zmall, an online one-stop shop that features supermarkets, beauty supply companies and provides services for DSTV payment, concert tickets and soccer tickets. It charges 60 Br for its shortest delivery distance, one to three kilometres, and 110 Br for its longest journey, nine to 12Km.

The company invested five million Birr for Zmall to procure 75 electric bikes and train unemployed youth near the ETTA office in Kazanchis to become its employees. It plans to feature restaurants, bars and other services like electricity and water payments on its app and aims to have a fleet of 7,800 delivery motorbikes by 2021, according to Temesgen.

ETTA started the taxi service following discussions with the Ministry of Transport, but things did not go as anticipated, according to Temesgen.

"While the taxis were new and modern," Temesgen said, "the drivers weren't aware of how it worked, nor were they given any training or preparation by the government."

Since most of the taxi associations had also started signing exclusivity deals with other service providers the company had to turn to the old blue taxis in the city to deal with the shortage, which was not ideal, according to Temesgen. He believes that those cars with Code-3 license plates should not be used for taxi services but instead for business and rental purposes.

Alazar Yirdaw, director at Addis Abeba Transport Authority Public & Freight Transport Dispatch & Operator License, said that the Transport Proclamation designates Code-3 plate vehicles to be used only for business and rental purposes.

"One of the issues in contention is the legal interpretation of a rental agreement," he added. "The issues will be resolved once the pending court cases have been finalised."

This is new territory for the government, and they have not made the situation clear, according to Birhanu Assefa, general manager for Adika Taxi, another company that has switched to providing taxi services only to corporate clients due to the demand.

"If we get Code-3 taxis and try to operate," said Birhanu, "we'll be shut down while others are working. And I do believe there’s plenty of room for everyone, but we want a fair and level playing ground."

The vintage blue taxis have been operating in the city since the late 1970s, and the city's Transport Bureau has registered 10,000 blue taxis to replace them with better and newer models. But it has yet to acquire financial support.

ETTA has also developed and tested an app called Addis Guzo designed for use by the Addis Abeba Transport Authority. The application is a tracker and controller for taxis that violate rules such as carrying too many customers. Passengers can easily put in the license plate and send in their complaints through there. The Authority can then get the information and track it through a control centre.

The government should encourage innovation by all means necessary, according to Werotaw Bezabih (PhD), an expert on entrepreneurship.

"The one thing that the youth have to offer is ideas, and the government should take all the necessary steps to make sure there is conducive ground for innovators to try and fail and get up again," he said. "At the moment, we are lagging extremely behind in this."

PUBLISHED ON Apr 04,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1040]

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