Stephen Mbuthi @SteveGears
The uptake of motorcycle transport in Kenya has spiked sharply in the past few years, mainly driven by the relatively lower cost of Chinese and Indian-built motorcycles.
This has seen a boom in the boda boda industry with Sh400 million injected into the Kenyan economy everyday. While the convenience of weaving quickly through traffic is undeniable, so too is the indiscipline and unruly nature of the industry, earning riders an unfavourable reputation that led to the motorcycles being banned from operating in the Nairobi Central Business District.
A former teacher Meshack Ogutu is trying to change all this with a ride hailing app designed specifically for the boda boda industry.
The former Makini School and St Mary’s teacher went to the UK in 2002 where he switched to IT and worked over a decade for Honda and TS Tech before returning to Kenya in 2016.
Upon his return, Ogutu was perturbed by the sorry state of boda boda and sought to develop a solution that would benefit both riders and clients while structuring the operations to get rid of questionable characters that taint the industry.
“While I had a good job and all the perks, I wanted to come back home to do something for my country,” he says. Juu Bike partnered with the Boda Boda Safety Association of Kenya to enrol its over 800,000-strong membership. Like other taxi hailing apps, one will be able to hail a motorcycle from the convenience of their phones but the benefits go much further.
“There are criminal elements taking advantage of the fact that boda bodas are nondescript. A rider may hire out his motorcycle genuinely only for the user to go commit crimes using it.
To deal with this, all members of the association will be expected to have a visible number printed on their Hi-Visibility jackets, helmet and motorcycle. This will ensure that the rider is the owner of the motorcycle and can be tracked down in case they are spotted being mischievous on the road,” he says.
As the app also contains the details of the rider, Meshack hopes that the Juu App will help boda boda shed their shady reputation, especially when using them in unfamiliar areas or late at night.
“We hope that this will translate to clients feeling more comfortable using a boda-boda that is registered,” he says. While the application has been well received by the Boda Boda Safety Association of Kenya, there are a few teething problems.
“There are over 150,000 boda boda in Nairobi alone, but they are not evenly distributed. This means that a user in a low traffic area like Gigiri may have to wait a longer time to get a rider and if the rider comes from the CBD, naturally the cost of the journey will be higher,” he says.