When Jason Eisen toured Nairobi in 2010 and then again in 2013, he faced a common problem — transport woes within Kenya’s capital.
Transport challenges frustrated the Washington DC-based consultant prompting him to start sharing his experience with his acquaintances.
“As I discussed these challenges with scores of Nairobians, I quickly began to understand that I was not alone lamenting them. I remember flying back to Washington, DC, after a particularly difficult transport experience here, and on the day I landed, using something like nine different modes of transport, all powered by technology,” recalls Mr Eisen.
At that moment, he began to reflect on how technology could be applied to alleviate some of Nairobi’s transport woes.
Mr Eisen quit his job three months later and returned to Kenya to explore the transport business idea.
“A unique picture began to emerge, of a taxi culture not a taxi market, built around trust rather than anonymity, relationships rather than proximity. A view of taxis as individuals rather than just a function,” said Mr Eisen.
Mr Eisen then joined efforts with Mr Steve Kimani to establish Maramoja Transport. Maramoja was launched at iHub’s five-year tech anniversary, which brought together several technology companies on March 7, this year.
The company, however, had been running for a while before then.
The socially powered transport start-up operates through an app on smartphones, where potential customers view all taxi drivers within their vicinity through GPS before requesting services from one.
The taxi drivers are, however, sourced through referrals from customers, who have used their services before or from fellow taxi drivers.
“Users can quickly request a trusted taxi from their smartphone, seeing exactly where all available drivers are via GPS tracking, and review the driver’s credentials before accepting him,” says Mr Eisen.
According to Mr Eisen, Maramoja has built a network of 150 taxis and private hire drivers around Nairobi and is still adding new drivers every day.
However, Maramoja conducts thorough background checks before adding any new driver to its platform.
“We respect the local taxi culture of trust and referrals and don’t want to force some other country’s taxi habits on Kenya. Instead, we seek to bring technology driven tools that reinforce this culture and make it easier, faster, and safer to move about Nairobi,” Mr Eisen says.
“Any driver that can pass our credentials verification and screening can work with us as a driver partner,” Mr Eisen adds.
The drivers have fixed charges regardless of the time of the day or weather under which they are working. For instance, the drivers charge Sh350 to Kilimani from the CBD and Sh700 for customers heading to Nairobi West from the city centre.
The company is also offering other services to augment its earnings. “We have also integrated emergency response services from a leading private security company to provide an extra level of security,” Mr Eisen adds.
These achievements, however, have not been achieved through a smooth ride.
“Our biggest challenges so far have been around creating awareness that such a service exists and persuading drivers to try it out since many taxi drivers are fiercely independent, accustomed to working informally, and setting their own charges,” Mr Eisen says.
He is, however, quick to note that it has now reached a point where drivers are actively seeking to join the network.
Maramoja is now competing against two other taxi apps Uber and EasyTaxi, for customers in Nairobi. It plans to roll out to other parts of the country later this year.
“As soon as we’ve stabilised our growth here in Nairobi, we’ll be looking to expand to other Kenyan cities as well as other African capitals. Nakuru is looking particularly intriguing with their city-wide WiFi,” Mr Eisen says.