The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) has called for the prosecution of shuttle-hailing service Swvl co-founder and CEO Mostafa Kandil, saying the Egypt-based firm has defied orders to seek licencing and is operating in Nairobi illegally.
Last year, the transport regulator had ordered the online firm to cease operations because it lacked a public service vehicle (PSV) licence.
According to NTSA, the firm has not sought to be licenced by either the agency or Nairobi County despite operating on different routes in the capital.
“Traditionally an operator is licensed to operate at a particular route but Swvl wants to operate in a manner that they can go anywhere," said NTSA's Licensing Manager Jackson Mutua during a Nairobi County Assembly Transport committee sitting.
Mr Mutua said the regulator has written to the Inspector General of Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions over the matter.
Last Friday, police impounded Swvl vehicles and arrested drivers after NTSA accused the company of using a tour service permit for its PSV operations.
But, the CEO, Mr Kandil, said the arrests had been based on the status of the operating licences of their partners, and not Swvl’s own compliance.
A PSV permit requires that a company be a member of a sacco and have registered staff such as mechanics as well as fixed routes.
Nairobi County Roads and Transport Chief Officer Engineer Fredrick Karanja confirmed that Swvl had sought to get a licence.
“They (Swvl) tried to apply and as a county we advised them that they have to follow the designated routes. They cannot operate how they want and the routes they had requested,” said Mr Karanja.
“The problem is that Swvl want to operate everywhere ignoring that the PSVs in Nairobi operate along routes that the have been licensed. Once they get licensed they will have to follow the existing routes,” he said.
Swvl has become popular among Nairobi’s working class keen to avoid the matatu chaos.
The transport committee called on both NTSA and City Hall to licence Swvl to allow it operate, albeit at a higher fee.
“If they want to use more than one route then I suggest that the county to charge them higher,” said nominated MCA Mary Arivtsa.
But Mr Karanja maintained his stance saying Swvl had to apply for the right licences and use designated routes.
“There cannot be an exemption and since they are just like PSVs, only that they use technology and other things, they should follow the routes available,” he said.
The committee's chairperson Joyce Muthoni urged both NTSA and City Hall to ensure that all PSVs in Nairobi are properly licensed.
Swvl offers point-to-point shuttle services with users booking trips through their mobile phones. They are then notified of the nearest pick-up point, price and time to board.
Last month, the firm added long-distance trips as well as multiple routes in the Nairobi and outskirts. Swvl already had 55 connections.
Tech-based solutions in the transport sector have been causing a ripple locally with Uber making its entry in the taxi business several years ago despite protests by taxis at the onset.
-Additional reporting by BD reporters.