Uber now wants a slice of Kenya’s lucrative but unregulated Matatu industry worth over $2 million

Tests on the bigger vehicles are already underway.

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  • Uber Technologies is planning to roll out a new service in Kenya’s capital to help users book seats on minibuses that ply the busy congested roads of Nairobi.
  • Tests on the bigger vehicles are already underway in Egypt and Mexico and if they prove successful, it will be replicated in Nairobi.

Uber Technologies is planning to roll out a new service in Kenya’s capital to help users book seats on minibuses that ply the busy congested roads of Nairobi.

“We want to be part of the transportation ecosystem in Nairobi and matatus are a big part of how people move around,”Uber’s East Africa General Manager Loic Amado told Reuters, adding the feature would soon be available on the Uber app.

The tech company estimates that more than a third of Kenyans in Nairobi use the often crowded minibuses, known as matatus, as their main form of transport around the city and are determined to change this and get a slice of matatu lucrative trade.

Tests on the bigger vehicles are already underway in Egypt and Mexico and if they prove successful, it will be replicated in Nairobi.

The company already operates Uber Pool and Uber Express Pool in cities such as London and New York, so taxi drivers can carry more passengers heading to the same or nearby destinations.

But Nairobi is not London nor New York leave alone Cairo so how would the service work in a place infamous for its gridlock traffic which sometimes can last for hours on end?

The Matatu industry in Kenya, which largely consists of privately owned 14 seater or 25 seater vehicles is a largely unregulated industry, with the government estimating that it was worth over Sh200 billion.

The industry is also bedeviled with unruly crew who sometimes break traffic rules with abandon and customer etiquette is a foreign concept.

Amado however, says the new Uber product would allow customers to track and trace the minibuses.

“It would help reduce idle time at the bus stop during slow hours,” said Jackson Onyinkwa, chairman of one of Nairobi’s matatu associations. His association has 46 vehicles

So bad is Nairobi’s traffic jam that Kenyans spend 40 days in a year just sitting in traffic, the cost to the economy is enormous and according to the government, time wasted in traffic jams represents a cost of $578,000 (Sh58.4 million) a day and $210 million (Sh2.1billion) a year in lost productivity.

The idea would be to apply Uber’s new service to vehicles carrying up to 16 people and according to Amado once the service has been proven in Nairobi, it could be expanded to Kenya’s neighbours, such as Uganda’s capital Kampala and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Since entering the Kenyan transport industry four years ago, Uber now has 6,000 active drivers and is seeking an edge over rival operators in the East African nation, such as Estonian ride-hailer Taxify and Little, set up by Nairobi-based Craft Silicon.

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