Addis Ababa’s booming delivery sector is hitting the brakes as delivery businesses’ survival hangs in the balance due to motorbike usage facing ongoing uncertainty. More than 32 couriers under the Ethiopian Couriers Association rely primarily on motorbikes to deliver orders in the capital city.
Courier services are among the fast-growing sectors ushering in e-commerce growth and laying economic foundations.
However, the Addis Ababa City Administration’s intermittent restrictions on motorbikes have placed delivery companies in a precarious position. For instance, last September, couriers could not work for up to 12 days due to bans.
“The city administration suddenly prohibits motorbikes without prior notice. They also do not notify us of new measures like road closures across the city in advance,” said Roza Kassa, the A coordinator. “Courier companies deliver urgent items like blood and tenders that require timely transportation. But the city administration’s unexpected interventions disrupt our business operations.”
This lack of predictability prompted the Association to submit a letter to the Transport Bureau three weeks ago. After prior discussions with Bureau and Ethiopian Communications Authority officials, the Association also developed guidelines proposing stringent fleet regulation without outright prohibitions.
The Association requested special permits exempting couriers from bans, even during emergencies. Their guidelines aim to self-regulate fleets.
The draft submitted to the city and communications authority suggests co-regulation: the Authority would license companies while the Bureau regulates vehicles.
Proposed standards address motorbike standards, driver uniforms, fleet management apps, insurance, GPS installation, inspections, and centralized fleet controls.
The Association requested the Bureau and Authority to validate and approve the guidelines. The Association submitted the guideline to the Bureau on August 2023.
“We created Dubai-level guidelines and submitted them, which could prevent our riders from being treated as criminals if approved,” said Yonatan Beyene, the Associations deputy chair. We provided ways to regulate even the clothing and all aspects of the job, including methods of supervision. But the government did not provide a positive response to our efforts.”
However, the Bureau and Authority have rejected adopting the proposed guidelines.
“We cannot go with the guideline proposal. Do you really think their Association could prepare a guideline and give it to a government body?” questioned Etsegenet Abebe, public relations head of the Addis Ababa Transport Bureau.
Communications Authority officials also said guarantees cannot be made that motorbikes would avoid bans during national security issues.
“Motor cycles are not the only means of transportation. They could also use bicycles and cars,” Million Hailemicahel, deputy director general of Communications Authority, told The Reporter.
“Though the government does not strictly regulate the kind of vehicles courier companies could use, if deemed necessary for security issues, motorcycles could and would be banned. Responsible government bodies put those restrictions only when it’s appropriate and is necessary for national security,” added Million.
While licensing couriers, Million says lobbying on their behalf is limited given national security is not up for debate. Million directed the companies to liaise with implementing agencies on reoccurring prohibitions.
After declining the Association’s proposed guideline, the City Transport Bureau formulated its own version of the guideline, focusing on controlling bikers through bike owners associations instead of delivery firms.
“We have organized over 6,000 bikes in Addis Ababa under such structures. We are currently discussing the new guideline with them. We cannot give the special permit for the courier companies, but we can notify the courier companies before a ban is applied,” said Mitiku Asmare, head of the Addis Ababa Transport Bureau.
“We convened stakeholders on November 2, 2023, to discuss on the new guideline we are preparing. However, delivery companies are not willing to participate.”
He says stakeholders convened on November 2nd to discuss the in-progress guideline, but “delivery companies are not willing to participate.”