Peng Chen was born in China, grew up in San Diego, California, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Finance and Fine Arts. While living in the United States, he was used to organized and functioning public transportation systems, a stark contrast to what he found in Kenya.
During his tenure as Operations Manager with TakaTaka Solutions, a waste management startup in Nairobi, he saw firsthand the difficulties people faced in finding reliable, consistent, and safe transportation, particularly with taxis. “I heard complaints about transportation from almost everybody I met in Nairobi. People were looking for an effective, on-demand transport solution that could help reduce the hassles that came with travel in Nairobi. There was definitely a problem, but I wasn’t in a position to help tackle those issues at the time.”
However, one day he met someone who would help him shape the city’s transport system for good. A friend, Aneesa Arshad, the head of East Africa’s online property classified site Lamudi, introduced him to EasyTaxi in late May. “I was always interested in the role that private companies played in developing countries. Particularly here in Nairobi, I saw firsthand the critical role that private entrepreneurs played in innovating for the public good in sectors such as waste management. I was ready for an opportunity to apply what I had learned to another sector, transportation and eager to learn and see more,” Chen tells TechMoran.
After attending a global EasyTaxi seminar in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he met several EasyTaxi African directors including Nigeria’s Bankole Cardoso, Ghana’s Baffour Appiah-Korang, and Egypt’s Hussein Abdelkarim, Chen came back to Nairobi with just one simple plan – to bring more sanity to the city’s transport sector, expanding from one city to another, until EasyTaxi becomes the best way to order a taxi in all of Kenya. “Transportation is the blood that runs through the veins of Nairobi. Nairobi has grown so fast over the last 50 years that the infrastructure and transportation solutions haven’t caught up with the realities on the ground yet. I believe that making taxis more accessible and reliable would be hugely beneficial for the country.”
How the App Works
The app uses GPS technology to link users to the closest drivers around them. Each driver is equipped with an Android phone that allows them to see the customer requests around them and the driver then decides whether or not to accept. “We have a relationship with every driver in our network and make sure they meet our rigorous selection criteria before we sign them up to our platform. They know we have their driver information on file. Trust and reliability is a huge issue here. Kenyan’s do not just take any taxi off the street but will wait for their regular taxi guy to pick them up. They’re willing to wait an extra 30 minutes or even an hour for their regular driver because they don’t want to negotiate and they trust their driver.”
In order to promote trust and reliability, the EasyTaxi app shows passengers the driver and car details of the taxi that is coming to pick you up. EasyTaxi also provides an additional layer of trust by using GPS technology to show the location and expected arrival time of each taxi. Since all of the requests and rides are logged, getting back any lost items in your taxi has never been easier!
“We’ve also been working closely with drivers and passengers to define a neighborhood tariff guide for Nairobi so that passengers won’t have to hassle with the driver over prices. This tariff feature will be available in-app by the end of the month.”
Thoughts on Competition
And when I take him through a list of taxi hailing apps launching in the city, over ten minus his, Chen keeps his calm, even at the mention of bullish Uber.
“Execution first, we believe that the best thing to do is to hit the ground running. Uber is targeting a different segment, the ultra high-end and they typically put new cars on the road. At EasyTaxi we work with existing drivers on the road,” he tells TechMoran.
But the big question is what if a driver signs up to more than one taxi hailing service?
“People should have choices. They should know what they want. At the end of the day, people will use the services that best fit their needs. We believe that EasyTaxi is the best mobile taxi service out there but we need to prove it to our customers and drivers each and every day,” Chen tells TechMoran.
EasyTaxi has begun in Nairobi but will be expanding to Mombasa, Eldoret, Kisumu and just any big town in Kenya. The firm plans to have both branded and non-branded cars in the near future. Car hires are not on their options at the moment as their value proposition is on-demand taxi service.
Getting the word out
EasyTaxi has already partnered with Blankets and Wine to help those attending the events get their conveniently. EasyTaxi is working on several partnerships with bars, event organizers and corporate firms to build itself as a brand to get passengers to their preferred destinations especially with the more rigorous rules and high fines on drunk driving.
“With alcoblow changing people’s behaviour-either people drink close-by, use taxis, don’t drink at all. EasyTaxi helps them prevent embarrassment of being seen on live TV for drunk driving, helps them prevent accidents, promotes health and helps them avoid heavy fines,” says Chen.
Chen is also doing heavy digital campaigns using Facebook and Google Ads, magazines, corporates to use their services to save costs and using word of mouth by drivers and passengers.
One big challenge to this push is the lack of smartphones. Though he says 16% to 20% of drivers have smartphones, the number is still low. As the drivers get business via the app, he expects they will go out and tell the rest to buy smartphones. The firm is also working on several partnerships to get smartphones for drivers. Another challenge is the discomfort of using some features of the smartphones like maps ad GPS by some of the drivers which he says they need to be trained.
Though free at the moment, EasyTaxi will later start charging a minimum commission on use of the app but to him the app is more than just business. He wants to see the app as a tool to empower drivers, reduce management costs for individual drivers and fleet owners and save time and fuel.
Chen’s main goal now is to prove to passengers that EasyTaxi is the most reliable, safe, and convenient means of ordering a taxi in Nairobi, and all of Kenya in the future. So how does he plan to do that?
“People succeed by working together. There’s a reason why “Pamoja” is used as a greeting by many people in Nairobi. It means “together” and that’s how we’re going to succeed,” Chen concludes.
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