Ride-hailing services want to disrupt—and bring order to—Kenya’s unruly public bus system

Kenya’s ad-hoc matatu bus system has been described as cool and colorful but it is also very chaotic. For years now, transport officials have tried to rein in the sector in a bid to decongest major urban areas and introduce rapid bus transits that would improve capacity and reliability. But those efforts have so far proved vain, and with little or no light railway, trams, or cycling lanes, millions of commuters in cities like Nairobi and Mombasa use the unruly and loud matatus to move around daily.

Now, a slew of app-based, hailing services wants to disrupt public transit in Kenya by testing ways to get customers to destinations with fewer stops, at affordable prices, while maintaining high quality and safety standards.

In the last two weeks, Little, the ride-hailing app backed by Kenya’s largest mobile operator, Safaricom, and Swvl, the Cairo-headquartered bus transportation service, have begun piloting bus shuttles in Nairobi. Their busses have been plying routes in the city and testing which neighborhoods have more demand and how passengers react to a pre-booked service.

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