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Technology

An app that reports overlapping matatu drivers

James Langat, smart matatu fleet manager at Echomobile explains how the sensor works with the app. PHOTO | SARAH OOKO
James Langat, smart matatu fleet manager at Echomobile explains how the sensor works with the app. PHOTO | SARAH OOKO 

Mercy Cherono, 32, was involved in a road accident two years ago on Lang’ata Road in Nairobi.

Fortunately, she only suffered a slight neck injury that was effectively treated due to her comprehensive medical insurance cover. Not many Kenyans are that lucky, though.

According to the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA), approximately 3,000 people lose their lives in road accidents annually.

Many more nurse emotional scars while suffering from debilitating physical injuries that confine them to wheel chairs.

Echomobile, a Nairobi based Information Technology (IT) firm, seeks to confront this problem through a mobile app — Smart Matatu— that promotes safe driving.

Now under a pilot on Rongai and Kibera routes, it was developed by the University of California Berkeley in collaboration with the University of Nairobi.

The targeted users of the app are individuals or co-operative societies that own matatus operating in the selected routes.

Users require a sensor installed in their vehicles. “It is this device (sensor) that communicates to the app, supplying it with relevant information about the safety of vehicles on the road,” James Mwangi, project officer of the smart matatu initiative at Echomobile told the Business Daily. Owners, he added, can access this data on their android smart phones, receiving real time alerts on major safety events such as when vehicles are speeding, over-accelerating, overlapping or making sharp turns.

“Whenever I get numerous alerts like these, I usually call the driver to find out where the problem is,” said Johnson Maina, secretary of the Serian Sacco that own matatus plying the Kiserian-Rongai route.

He stated that this has spurred open and candid communication between the sacco and its drivers on the importance of adhering to road safety rules.

Results of the initial pilot last year in the Kiserian-Rongai routes showed that even though drivers were generally aware of road safety and traffic rules, many of them had ignored them.

“But with the smart matatu sensors in the vehicles, the drivers became more conscious of the misconduct as they were aware that all their actions were being monitored. This prompted them to change their behaviour,” explained James Langat, smart matatu fleet manager at Echomobile.

At the end of each working day, he said, the app usually rates the performance of each driver with regards to safety driving. Those that receive high scores are given incentives which reinforce the good behaviour.

Michael Maloba, another matatu owner that has embraced the new technology stated that it has enabled him to effectively manage his business, reduce operation costs and boost profits.

“Even though someone else is driving the vehicle, it is like I’m there with the matatu at all times. I can monitor its movements from the app throughout the day.”

Exact location

Aside from the safety, the smart matatu sensors enable matatu owners to know the exact location of their vehicles as well as the kilometres covered.

“With this information, I can approximate the number of trips made as well as the fuel consumption,” noted Mr Maloba.

Previously, unscrupulous drivers would doctor the figures so as to make more money.

The app also enables owners to determine when their vehicles are switched on or off, therefore, knowing when their drivers start and complete work.

“Sometimes people can lie that the matatu is at the mechanic’s place or at the police station when they are actually using the vehicle to run their own errands or make some side cash,” said Mr Maina.

By alerting them whenever drivers are engaging in reckless driving, he says that the app has made it possible for the sacco to greatly save on repairs and maintenance costs.

To minimise travel times and make as many trips as possible, matatu drivers have a habit of using ‘short-cut’ routes which often involve passing through rough roads that damage cars.

But thanks to the technology, this habit has reduced as owners are now able to tell when their vehicles are off-route or using a different road other than the designated.

Acting fast

“We have a shortcut like that in our route, and that rough road used really damages the matatus. Now, our drivers stick to the main tarmacked road as they know we’re watching,” said Maina.

The ‘off-route’ alert, said Mr Maloba, is also good for security reasons.

“When you see your car where it’s not supposed to be, it could be a kidnapping attempt or any other security concern. And knowing enables you to act fast.”   

The smart matatu app can be downloaded from Google Store at no cost on android smart phones.

The use of sensors for information gathering is becoming popular among many businesses, as many people seek to eliminate biased results in data collection.

No manipulation

While using other methods like questionnaires, it may be easy for drivers to lie that they did not break any traffic rules.

But a sensor cannot be manipulated. If the speed is high, that is what will be recorded.

With accurate results, businesses can adequately put in place measures to address arising challenges and maximise profits while offering quality services to customers.

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