Public transport innovation

The past few months I have watched and read with a tinge of amusement the posturing that has been happening in the public, pitting government (Kenya) and the associations representing operators in the informal public transport sector popularly known as matatus. On one hand the government says that it must work for the people and therefore interventions such as deploying the National Youth Service buses at Ksh 20 on key routes irregardless of distance or time travel seem perfect for the situation.

The matatus associations on behalf for their members are on the other hand crying foul over unwarranted intervention and unfair competition via subsidies in a space that has seen them invest millions in inventory and maintenance.

While arguments on each side carry merit, we must look at the required solution set from the user’s perspective and not necessarily that of governments or investors. Understanding the why, will help frame better sustainable long-term working solutions that are supported by policy with greater buy-in. This would also allow for others to build services and solutions that can coexist.

mapping matatus

We have in the past only gone as far as mapping the chaos and unfortunately worked on solutions that layer on top of this and it is no surprise that those interventions have experienced epic failures. We have done benchmarking tours of projects such as TransMilenio in Bogota where the former mayor Gustavo Petro is famously quoted as saying ‘a developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation’; so we know what a possible solution would look like.

The industry is a black hole with guestimates on how much it moves on daily basis much to the chagrin of the Kenya Revenue Authority. The labor force is accustomed to a certain way of value movement. The current investors are a steely lot hardened and tempered by understandable circumstances and the consumer is only really keen to get from point A to B easier, faster, in relative comfort and with seamless transitions.

We have all the building blocks in place; a government clearly eager to deliver value, an investor base – current and potential keen to put capital into utilities for a descent return, technologies – digital currency, mobile money and telematics, infrastructure – hybrid clouds and tools for building platforms that scale and most importantly, local competence to deliver a tropicalized solution that works for us.

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