Magic Bus Ticketing is armed with over $1m to bring sanity to Kenya’s public transport system

Magic Bus Ticketing is an SMS bus ticketing app that connects commuters to public buses in informal transportation systems allowing commuters to book or just know when the bus is coming, which is very valuable across Sub Saharan Africa where there is a lack of realtime bus schedules.

“It’s an easy way for commuters to text, book, and ride for intra-city travel,” Co-founder Iman Cooper told TechMoran. “No internet is required, making it accessible to the 80% of Kenyans who  own mobile phones, but the majority of whom can’t afford data. Now commuters can access transportation that is reliable, affordable, and timely.”

Founded last year by Leslie Ossete, Wyclife Omondi, Iman Cooper, and Sonia Kabra. The Magic Bus Ticketing team has together, lived and worked in more than 20 different countries, where they each have experienced firsthand the effects of not being able to get the right bus at the right time, leading to lost job interviews, visa applications, and other economic opportunities.

They were therefore inspired by a desire to bring reliable, affordable transport to all people; at their core, they believe access to transportation—and more importantly, opportunities, is a right for everyone. The co-founders are passionate about making this vision a reality through Magic Bus.

13015667_1582279212082581_597854866026587191_nAccording to the team, inadequate transportation is a widespread global problem. Across Africa and throughout developing countries, informal transportation systems have very real human costs. People lose hours waiting for buses, meaning they are late to work, losing income, wasting time–making it difficult to get from point A to point B in a timely and affordable manner. Transportation is often overlooked as a vital infrastructure that is needed to increase people’s ability to access economic opportunities that can help break the poverty cycle, which is why we are passionate about tackling this global problem.

Iman says that though policy might be failing as a course to development in Africa and other emerging markets, in the West it is different.

“Often in the West, like in Indiana where all the founders met at school, public transportation is managed by the government. However, in informal and privatized transportation sectors, like in Kenya if you want to impact millions of people you need to create innovative solutions which meets the industry where it is,” she told TechMoran. “Technology, like ours, is one way to do that. Of course, the right public transport policies by the government would go a long way in making transportation more effective and efficient, but right now we have found a way to optimize public transport by utilizing the usefulness of technology.”

Magic Bus Ticketing has raised $1M from the Hult Prize, which it will use to launch and scale its business in Kenya then to the entire East African region. The team says it learned a lot through this initial seed-raising round coupled with gaining a deeper understanding of our business, which will serve it well as we raise subsequent rounds.

The firm chose Nairobi as the perfect place to launch as one of the co-founders, Wyclife Omondi is from Nairobi and, after expressing his frustrations about the chaotic transport system where there are no set schedules or standardized fares, he realized that his frustrations were not just all in his head.

Another factor is that in 2011, an IBM transport study found that Nairobi has the 4th highest commuter pain point out of cities around the globe. That brought Magic Bus Ticketing’s attention to how crucial it was to address this problem in Nairobi. Thirdly, MIT’s Digital Matatus project had mapped the routes in Nairobi using technology, making the data open-sourced, which provided valuable information as a starting point. Fourthly, Kenya is the birthplace of mobile money and leads Africa in mobile money adoption, which is part of the Magic Bus Ticketing solution.

During its beta-pilot the firm was working with a bus company in Rongai, where it quickly gained early users, serving over 5000 tickets in a very short period.

Iman says the firm is fortunate that there has been research done and that much data has been made available regarding Kenya’s public transport sector.

‘It helps us create a more effective and relevant transport solution. The right data is informative, and knowledge is power.  We believe the right data can be crucial to creating  more efficient public transportation systems, and has the potential to impact city planning in a really positive way,” she told TechMoran.

According to the firm, one of the biggest challenges in the Kenyan transportation system is that there are many stakeholders in the privatized system but the firm is doing its best to talk to all the stakeholders involved, conducting focus groups to get everyone’s input about its solution.

Also, another challenge it faces is the change in behavior required of commuters, to go from a cash-based system to cashless payments. By allowing commuters to see the benefits of a cashless system, the firm believes it can help facilitate this change smoothly.

“Globally and across Africa we are seeing a rise in start-ups that are aiming to solve big problems that traditional corporations can’t or have yet to solve,” said Iman. “We think startups and especially social enterprises are unique in the sense that they are flexible enough to adjust rapidly to market needs and are passionate about being solutions to the problems they see in the world. For us, we are addressing transport as a startup and from a social enterprise perspective because we believe transportation for low-income populations has been too long overlooked by telcos and corporate entities.”

Iman adds that it is a challenge the firm is excited to take on and help solve through Magic  Bus. There’s  never a shortage of real problems that need solving, such as access to clean water, education, or healthcare; hence there’s always enough space for both startups and corporations to co-exist and do good in the world. By using both approaches the firm is sure to see impactful change for these large-scale problems that are confronting humanity.

Since 3 out of our 4 founders are emerging women leaders, Iman says its the team’s sincere hope that women’s leadership positions continue to advance and grow, rather than being set back by Trump’s election.

“Far too many women leaders have paved the way for us as women and women of color, to get to where we are now. Their sacrifices, courage, and strength to stand up to the status quo, would make it unacceptable for us to stop pushing forward to promote women’s leadership in every sector, across all aspects of society,” she concluded.

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About the Author: Sam Wakoba

Taking you on tour through Africa's tech ecosystem, one startup at a time! [email protected]