Balancing public transport equation takes collaboration

Nairobi Commuter Rail Service
Passengers ride on an overloaded Nairobi Commuter Rail Service's (NCRS) commuter train traveling from the Dandora station during a strike by the Federation of Public Transport operators in Nairobi on November 12, 2018. PHOTO | JOAN PERERUAN 

Here we are again, a declaration made leading to yet another crackdown on public service vehicle operators.

The predictable script led to a revolt by the operators, a disenfranchised walk-to-work commuter base that culminated in a closed door meeting by representatives and finally handshakes that restored services.

Rinse repeat on all these good intentions.

Mobility is a basic human right that connects people to opportunities.

The majority of residents in Nairobi and its metro areas rely heavily on the semi-formalised public transport network to access their daily bread. When this infrastructure even in its chaotic manifestation is further disturbed, the net effect is never quite appreciated with headlines dominated only by how much the operators lost in guesstimate revenue.


We have been throwing money at parts of the problem often informed by a pure profit agenda of some players; for example pushing cards in a drive for cashless with an eye on transaction commissions, painting of roads without attendant infrastructure in place, covert passing of legislation on seatbelts and speed governors among others.

At its most basic, a modern day transit ecosystem must provide a safe, efficient and reliable experience assuring security of movement for the working class by addressing these key components; demand aggregation, supply consistency, service scheduling, promotion, matching, notifications, tracking, inventory standardisation, pricing, payments, quality of service, reviews and compliance. There is a lot of tech speak that I can dive into, at each and every one of these components with the regular suspects like machine learning, artificial intelligence, big data et cetera having a place at the table.

We do not suffer lack in the technology and talent department.

Agreeable to what technology pundit Ory Okolloh once said — we cannot entrepreneur around bad policy — I believe that the government, Treasury, relevant ministries, agencies and county governments that are covered by the Nairobi Metropolitan Area can actively support local innovators under the public/private partnership model to quickly test and improve on homegrown solutions that have a better chance at traction than pick and place models from benchmarking tours.

As with every equation, you leverage the known to determine the unknown and in the case of our functional madness, we have lots of data, business models, policy interventions, focus groups et al done over decades.

A sustainable yet adaptive solution lies in true collaboration that adds value to all ecosystem players with commuters and operators at the core.