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Taxi company banking on trust to capture market

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Maramoja ensures you get home safely and at affordable cost

BY Tullah Stephen

If you need transport in Nairobi, chances are you will call your trusted cab guy.  That driver you have worked with before. Right?  But what if he or she is unavailable?

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You next move would be to probably call a friend to recommend his trusted cab guy. The truth is people do not like to use taxis driven by strangers, especially with the high crime rate in most cities.

But one start-up is using this trend to build a business.  Maramoja Transport is a Kenyan socially-powered app that helps users find a trusted ride with only a few taps on their smartphone.

The app was built after one of its founders Jason Eisen, toured Nairobi in 2010. For him a unique picture began to emerge of a taxi culture rather than a taxi market. The business in Kenya is built around trust rather than anonymity, relationships rather than proximity. Taxis are viewed as individuals rather than just a function. “Maramoja was born and built in Kenya, for Kenya; this drives our entire worldview and our socially powered approach to transport”, says Eisen.

Maramoja surfs users’ social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter and pairs them with drivers recommended by friends.  The app, according to Eisen, works as a trigger whereby a client’s request for a cab is answered by the phone numbers of trusted drivers who are nearest to the person.  To make a request, the customer keys in their location and destination.  From the app, the customer can also monitor the driver’s progress as they come to pick him or her. “The app also provides information to the clients if any of their friends has any relation with the drivers whose details they receive.”

The app, available in both android and web, is integrated with M-Pesa, so users pay a set rate via their phone.

Eisen says Maramoja, just like its competitors Uber and Easy Taxi, does not own the vehicles. Rather, it partners with taxi business people and taxi firms on recommendations from Maramoja associates.  “We earn our revenue through commissions. The commissions vary depending on the client’s ratings of the driver.”  The lowest rated driver attracts a commission of up to 18 per cent. Normally, aggregate ratings for drivers charge between 12-14 per cent commission.

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He says, if a driver is encouraged to join Maramoja by a customer, the company takes less commission. In the case that he or she is recruited by another driver, the recruiting driver gets a commission from the earnings of the driver he recruits.

The more drivers one recruits, the more he earns. “This ensures we spread benefits across the board, and the more drivers and clients one brings on board, the more he earns or saves. It also expands the pool of drivers one can choose from without compromising on safety,” He adds.

Maramoja targets drivers whose vehicles meet set standards. In addition, the drivers go through vigorous screening with strict credential checking.

Maramoja charges a flat rate regardless of the time, day or weather. “In a city without taxi meters, every cab ride begins with a contest — a negotiation over fare. We are saving clients from such hustles.”

Customers can check the fare to their destination from the price map before requesting for a taxi. Its competitors, on the other hand charge per kilometre. This means that every trip is openly priced. Maramoja’s competitors, for instance, offer rides in Nairobi for KSh60 per a kilometre and KSh4 per minute, in addition to a base fare of KSh100. This could be a tricky, especially in Nairobi where traffic jams are custom.

The company, Eisen says, has grown since its launch and continues to grow at double digits every month. The number of drivers signed up is about 700.  “The social aspect is partly what has made it possible for Maramoja’s recruiting strategy.”

Taxi drivers have for long tended to lack proper financial records. As a result they find it hard to track costs and revenues, something that made it difficult for lenders to extend credit to them. The startup is currently partnering with financial institutions to offer drivers or car owners’ favourable interest rates for those seeking asset finance.  “We also offer other services to augment our core business. For instance, we partner with security firms to ensure drivers and customers are safe from carjackings.”

Maramoja is now piloting a service that will allow users to hail boda boda (motor cycle taxi) services. The service, Eisen says, will operate the same wayas  the taxi service.

“Our biggest challenges so far have been creating awareness that such a service exists and persuading drivers to try it out since many are fiercely independent, accustomed to working informally, and setting their own charges,” Mr Eisen

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