By Libby George
LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigeria's business capital Lagos will ban commercial motorcycles from nearly the entire city, citing overcrowding and safety, authorities said on Monday, a move that could change the commute for thousands and threaten ride-hailing startups.
The Lagos state government announced on Twitter that it would ban motorcycles, commonly known as okadas, from operating in most of Lagos because of what it described as their "chaos and disorderliness" and "scary figures" of fatal accidents.
Companies such as Max.ng, Oride and Gokada have been aiming to capitalise on the congested Lagos roads and the city's teeming population to expand their operations.
The ban cites a 2018 law to bar okadas and small three-wheeled vehicles known as kekes from Feb. 1. It would bar them from virtually all the main commercial and residential neighbourhoods. Only one major area, far west of central Lagos, was not listed.
It could anger Lagosians who rely on the two- and three-wheeled vehicles to zip through intense congestion that regularly traps larger vehicles for hours, as well as the drivers who rely on them for income.
On Tuesday morning, passengers queued up in the centre of town, some hopping on Gokadas with their signature green helmets and others waiting their turn for one of dozens of other drivers who zipped away as quickly as they arrived.
As yellow kekes streamed past, Lagos resident Folarin Bosun said the government could not offer an alternative to okadas and kekes - which are often his only option to get to work on time.
"RESTRICTION ON POOR PEOPLE"
"Whatever the plan is, it's not going to be good enough," he said.
Chinedu Azodoh, cofounder of Max.ng, said their bikes are above the 200 cubic centimetre engine size banned under the law, and that he had not heard directly from the government. But a ban, he said, amounted to "a restriction on poor people.
Gbenga Omotoso, Lagos state commissioner of information and strategy, said the ban would affect all passenger companies and only courier service companies would be exempt.
"They have been found to have become part of the problem they set out to resolve," he said of commercial motorcycle companies.
Max.ng, which also operates in Kano, Ibadan and Akure in Nigeria, had an investment round last year that raised more than $5 million.
Startup Gokada also raised $5 million (£3.8 million) last year for its Lagos operations. Founder Fahim Saleh said that while their bikes are also above 200cc, he was not sure about the impact of the ban on them.
"It's disappointing," he said, adding they would seek to expand its operations in courier and logistics services. "We don't know how it's going to be enforced."
ORide, part of OPay in which Norwegian software firm Opera Ltd <OPRA.O> has an equity interest, also offers ride-hailing motorcycles in Lagos. Reuters could not immediately reach the company for comment.
In June, Gokada told Reuters that there are an estimated 8 million okada drivers operating across Nigeria.
(Additional reporting by Nneka Chile and Alexis Akwagyiram; editing by Grant McCool, William Maclean)