In an environment where the start-up has been filled with mainly apps and web applications, it becomes a shock when someone comes up with a concept that you thought people should be doing.
We are in a country where internet usage is still low and even then, the internet is very expensive. The number of people who have access to smartphones is still a far cry from what we all imagined and so it always bothers me when every young person out there thinks about creating apps to solve problems even for my village people where people see a smartphone only during Christmas and Easter when city people pay them that annual visit.
And so seeing the start-up idea by Okech Michael that wants to revolutionize the transport sector by creating a platform where one can just make a call to book seat on taxi is not just refreshing but brilliant because it caters for all classes of people.
For about five decades, white commuter taxis marked with blue stripes have traversed the country’s towns, picking passengers along roads and others, waiting for their passengers either in the old or new Taxi Park. But for the last seven months, coffee trader Micheal Okech has been changing the way people experience public transport along the Eastern Uganda route, particularly in commuter taxis commonly known as Kamunye.
Mr Okech is using O-Express, a commuter taxi startup he founded to pick passengers from a place of convenience.
“If you are travelling to Mbale, you have to come to town or the old taxi park. You have to go through the traffic jam and even pay money for that. So, we reserve space and pick passengers. Along Jinja road, our pick up points stop in Mukono and after that, we proceed to our destination so we are creating convenience for passengers,” Mr Okech says.
But the company is offering a new twist as passengers have to book a seat through a phone call or online using platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp.
“The booking avenues are basically phone calls, Whatsapp group and a Facebook page,” Mr Okech explains, “What creates a difference is that we have branded our taxis, passengers can always get back to us which is different from usual taxis where it is a one-off interaction with the taxi.”
Unlike what we are used to, Mr Okech has also created schedules for the taxis. He admits the company has no control over the time of arrival because of unpredictable traffic flow and bad roads that create delays for most passengers that plough that road. But departure hours are followed regardless of passenger numbers because of the need to eliminate the issues that prompted him to start this kind of business.
This is professionalizing the commuter business in Uganda. An industry that is filled with disorganization and has been wrecked with so many issues. With this kind of start-up, the safety of the travellers is also something that might be addressed in regards to the theft of items from travellers.
“As a coffee businessman, my products are in Mbale and the market, in Kampala. I have travelled on this road and seen too many problems with public transport such as the delays caused by looking for passengers, discomfort, failure to trace lost property, harassment of passengers, exchanging passengers halfway the journey. I thought I could tap into the sector to serve people better,” Mr Okech says.
For creatives out there, I think one of the learning things to take from this is that research and understanding your market is very pivotal. Okech didn’t start his idea until his research gave him a go-ahead. I struggle to understand why you would develop apps for farmers who could care less about a smartphone.
Author: Moses Echodu
Moses is a freelance writer for Newslibre and Programs Manager at the Craft Silicon Foundation. He loves writing about sports, politics and news around the globe and Inspiring new young people!!