“We connect people traveling in the same direction. Drivers offer the empty seats in their car to other travelers going the same way,” a statement on the website of a new carpooling service in Nairobi invites users.
Chief executive of the ride-sharing platform, says the idea of launching the startup crossed his mind when he was driving from Nairobi to Kapseret, Uasin Gishu County in the summer of 2017.
“I was alone in the car and the journey was boring. How about I offer lifts for a fee to people travelling along the same direction? It would also help me fuel the car back to Nairobi,” Mr Ramah Rugut, who is an electrical engineer told Digital Business.
Teaming up with his former high school friend Mr Kiptoo Magutt, a software developer who is now the chief technology officer, they came up with Twende, a mobile based service to help travelers avoid the long queues in bus stations and the inconvenience that comes with travelling in a stuffed 63 –seater coach.
Having visited various developed economies, Mr Magutt noticed that ride-sharing is a common service that helps riders reach their destinations as they work on their laptops and tablets besides creating networking opportunities.
26 year old Winnie Biwott loved their initiative and joined them as the chief operations officer, to assist in moulding the future of public transport.
“Sometimes public transport vehicles go on strike and leave thousands of Kenyans stranded and stressed out. Many want to travel over long distances for serious business deals. I saw this was a good opportunity to bridge this gap,” she told Digital Business.
Plying the Nairobi-Eldoret route, Twende app has gained traction from sedan and sport utility vehicle (SUV) drivers across the country who wish to invite people in their private space and break the boredom of traveling alone.
Ms Damaris Chemutai, who has used the service over ten times between Nairobi and Eldoret acknowledges the value of timeliness and the joy of being in control of speed, offered by Twende.
“This is the best transport solution that ever happened to me. There is no time wastage on stage, if the app says we are leaving at 10.00am, we will have left by 10.01am. Again, if am not comfortable with the speed, the drivers always slow down,” she says, adding that she feels secure during the entire journey.
The mother of two travels with her kids, aged 4 and 6, and the fare fluctuates depending on demand and supply. During peak hours, she pays Sh1,200 and Sh800 during off-peak time.
“Am always assured of a comfortable travel with my kids. We feel as though we are in a family car,” says the 29 year old who resides in Tena estate, Nairobi.
For Mr Martin Muiruri, who has been driving cars for 15 years, the app is a good opportunity to boost his earnings.
“I make four or five trips a week from Nairobi to Eldoret and back. Sometimes am lucky enough to get all passengers before I leave, other times I get only two and pick the rest along the way. The cash I get helps me fuel and service the car,” says the 40 year old owner of a seven-seater Toyota Voxy.
He explains that all his customers are covered by his car insurance, something that attracts business, though not a requirement by Twende.
However, Ms Grace Muthoni, a regular Twender user who lives in Rongai, Kajiado County calls on the proprietors of the service to solve the problem of commuting to Nairobi CBD every time she wants to travel to Eldoret.
“They need more cars to reach more locations. There should be some cars for short distances to connects us to driver heading to far areas. We need to picked from our houses and ride to our destination, however far it is,” says the mother of one.
Recalling one incident when she was sick and had to travel, she appreciated the caring attitude of the drivers who ensure passengers get the most comfortable ride.
“The app has an option to rate the driver and air your complaints or compliments. This helps riders get the best service from drivers who care about their reputation, retaining and attracting more customers,” the 24 year old expounds.
Mr Canicious Koech, an Eldoret based 34 year old medical practitioner who has been registered on the app since March 2019 says it helps him reduce fuel costs.
Mr Rugut says that the platform has over 450 registered drivers who have served over 3,000 passengers over the past one year.
“We get a 15 percent share of the total transactions done by each driver. We provide the platform, they provide the cars. We have learnt that Kenyans need quality services at an affordable fee,” he explains.
Kenya has now joined first world economies in enhancing the provision of convenient and affordable long distance transport solutions, through ride-sharing.
But Twende is not the only carpooling platform in the country. It gets competition from similar services such as Jaza Gari, Carpool World Kenya and Saafiri.
“In pursuit of increasingly diverse travel preferences, Twende is developing a system to allow Kenyans travel with fellow professionals, those who love a certain speed and agree on volume level of music in the car,” says Ms Biwott.
However, Mr Rugut decries the low volume of driver subscriptions to meet the huge demand from passengers, and the difficulties of getting the correct customer data.
“We are working on the challenge of pick-up locations since most riders are used to being picked up from home. Other users keep uninstalling the app in their phones, and this derails our data monitoring efforts that we believe should help us improve our services.”