E-taxi services are ubiquitous because they disrupted a market that needed a shakeup: traditional taxi. In Kenya, the likes of Little Cab, Bolt, and Uber are quite popular, especially in Nairobi where people love convenience, even if it means they have to pay a premium to enjoy calm and organized commutes.
The same model was extended to bus services. The development was echoed back at the start of 2019 when Little Shuttle started piloting the product. At the same time, Egypt-based SWVL set shop in Kenya and launched a massive campaign to convince Nairobi folks that booking a bus and letting it pick you at a convenient spot is actually better than doing queues in the city’s primary bus stops.
Little Shuttle and SWVL have since garnered a loyal following, but the NTSA did not like some things about their operations. About a month ago, the transport regulator issued a statement that both transport apps or companies had not abided to some regulations, so their activities were basically illegal.
As expected, Kenyans took to social media, especially Twitter to vent their distaste for NTSA and by extension, the government. It has since been argued that the move was, unsubstantially, motivated by influential individuals in the Matatu industry who did not want Little Shuttle and SWVL to prosper. Knowing how things are done in Kenya, it is possible the rumour is true, but it is also a good idea to ask stakeholders and people close to the matter to detail the events of the ban.
According to Little Cab CEO Kamal Budhabhatti, the app stopped shuttle services as soon as the NTSA dropped the bombshell on them. We expected the same thing to affect SWVL, but you and I have seen the buses doing rounds around the city as if nothing happened. Reason? No one knows although SWVL market heads had revealed earlier that negotiations with the regulator are underway. Little thinks the decision is biased.
“We don’t know about SWVL, but as per the communication from NTSA, we stopped. We also read in the newspaper that they ordered SWVL also to stop. But we see their busses in many places. So, we don’t know about them. Though we are not happy with the biased decision, we were told to stop, they were told to stop, and they still operate, and no one takes any action,” Kamal told Techweez.
Some of you are wondering what the NTSA wants from e-shuttle services. The simple answer is they are required to register as a Matatu Sacco – but Little does not want to do so because the model of apps is starkly different from what the regulator is proposing. However, Little is debating internally whether the proposal is something it can work with.
In the meantime, Little is offering carpooling services (probably the only of its kind). This means a 7-seater vehicle can serve as a shuttle, and the NTSA is in agreement with this model.
Perhaps SWVL has been seeing more surges in recent times because it is basically operating in a space without a competitor.
Little does not specify when these issues will be addressed.