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Swvl and Little Shuttle bus apps run into trouble in Kenya

Little Shuttle Services poster

The government of Kenya has stopped mass transit services by Swvl and the Little Shuttle apps. The National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) said the two bus hailing apps will not be allowed on the roads starting October 1st as they had contravened a section of the laws guiding the provision of Public Transport.

 “The authority has noted that Little Shuttle and Swvl operate vehicles contrary to the provisions of the PSV regulations. The vehicles under these hailing app companies have acquired a Tours Service Licence (TSL) but are engaging in commuter service within Nairobi therefore contravening the terms of the Tour Service License (TSL),” said Francis Meja the director general of NTSA.

NTSA has thus ‘blacklisted the specific vehicles operating under the two companies and their TSL invalidated’. Mr Meja said that the two companies had never made any effort to contact the authority and acquire the licenses required to run public services vehicles as required by Section 26 of the Transport and Safety Act No. 33 of 2012. He added that the Authority will support the apps once they apply and comply with PSV regulations.

Impact of blacklisting of Swvl and Little Shuttle apps in Kenya

Nairobi commuters had started getting accustomed to the ride hailing bus share services. The blacklisting by the government came as a shocker as the services have been on testing mode for the last seven months under the watch of NTSA.

Swvl started its successful piloting for mass transport in Nairobi in February 2019 with just five routes. Commuters would pay a flat rate of KES 200 to any destination along their route. The company announced recently that the piloting had ended and was officially launch in September 2019. It was injecting a whooping KES 1.2 billion into the business to expand to 55 routes. One month later, the service has been banned.

Little Shuttle was the first company to run bus ride hailing services in Nairobi in early February 2019. The app which is owned by Craft Silicon started with three routes and had recently piloted long-haul rides to Nakuru with notable success. The competition was just getting stiffer when the government struck.

Commuters who had gotten accustomed to safer more comfortable rides without the hassle of using their own vehicles will now either choose the chaotic matatu industry or go back to personal vehicle use. This is also a warning to bus ride hailing apps that are planning to enter the Kenyan market such as the Safiri Express app that all will not be smooth.

Why did the government blacklist Swvl and Little Shuttle in Kenya at this time?

That must be the question in everyone’s mind. Now, the matatu industry runs the show in the Kenyan PSV sector. It is a huge enterprise run by private bus owners, who were forced by the government to form saccos for ease of regulation. It is due to the matatu sector that government run services such as Kenya Bus Services failed. Enter the app hailing services and the matatu guys were not happy.

The Matatu Welfare Association chairman Dickson Mbugua had sworn they would frustrate the apps. He said that the apps were entering the matatu business through the backdoor, and he was probably right on this one.

“We have forwarded this matter to the relevant authorities, including the infrastructure ministry. We have a multi-agency stakeholders meeting and this will be the top agenda. We cannot be going into BRT induction and implementation at the same time embrace other modes of transport. This is retrogressive and we ask the government through the ministry to act.” ~ Dickson Mbugua

Now the NTSA has declared that the apps were engaging in illegal business and the police are advised to arrest them.

“I would have appreciated that they (NTSA) open a dialog with technology companies like us on how to work together and change the face of public transportation in our country,” Little Shuttle CEO Kamal Budhabhatti had said in a statement.

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