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The Move To Banish Kombis From Harare City Centre Could Signal Opportunity For Startups


They have tried this before and it was all chaos. Now they have decided to try again and this time by giving two days notice and by making the first effective date for this new system to be a public holiday, a new public holiday in honour of an ousted president for that matter.

Anyway, I understand why the powers that be don’t want kombis in the city centre, everybody does. However, everybody also knows that their system will crumble for the simple reason that the system is non existent. That is of course, unless the system involves deploying soldiers to man the streets to effect the changes. We will see.

There could be a better way. I met a startup called Yego Innovision in Kigali and they are transforming a possibly more chaotic transport situation into a working system you can envy from wherever you are. Their solution is called Yegomoto. First let me define the moto, the centrepiece of the transport system in Rwanda’s urban centres.

Imagine the chaos

The urban transport system in Rwanda is not manned by kombis, not even mushikashika. Public transport is provided by motrcycle scooters they call motos. Now, the moto can only ferry one passenger at a time.

The Kigali population is not too different from Harare. Now recall how many kombis you see on the streets of Harare. Everywhere you turn you see a kombi. Now imagine each of all the 18 persons in each kombi as an individual passenger on their own respective moto taxi. Imagine how many motos you see.

Added to this frenzy is that there are no fixed rates to fixed locations/bus-stops. You negotiate the fair of each ride.

Enter Yegomoto

Yegomoto simply introduced a digital meter that connects to the internet and has GPS. Instead of haggling with the driver every time over the fair the meter calculates the fair based on the transport regulator rates in Rwanda. Added to this the Yegomoto can be paid for using electronic forms of money particularly mobile money.

That’s not the big deal

The big deal with the Yegomoto is the data it collects in real time. I went to their offices to see for myself what kind of data they have. At any given time the Yegomoto guys can know where each and everyone of the taxis that have their meter is. They know how much they are making, how hard the driver works and how they drive and a great of other stuff.

This data can then be used in formulating policy for this sector which has always been very difficult to formalise in Africa.

This needs money our local authorities don’t have

If Zimbabwean kombis had this kind of ‘big brother spyware’ they would self regulate just like the motos are doing in Kigali. Instead of the cops playing a dance called spiky with kombis they can use a blown up computer screen and follow each and every kombi. This will come at zero risk to passenger lives. Of course this will only work if violations are prosecuted transparently.

There is much too much to Yegomoto and I hope to get time to share with you’all about them. Right now the point I seek to make is that what the city councils of Harare and Bulawayo have announced are weak solutions because they have not been worked out. They need to first invest in research and re-imagine a new system in a totally new way.

This kind of investment they cannot afford right now considering that they are failing to provide clean water. Let them go and solve that higher priority issue first and stop window dressing the public transport system which is functioning on top of a network of pot holes. Come on, after water please work on our road networks.

Yegomoto so far has invested USD5.5 million and they look into investing USD12 million before they spread to other cities and towns in Kigali. That is the scale of investment that is needed to introduce a functioning urban transport system that has buy in from all concerned: commuters, transport operators and city planners.

This investment has gone into developing the meter and the software that powers it biut more importantly it has gone into training drivers on road safety and importance of adherence to regulations etc. Yego does not take on unregistered drivers and they have a strict code. The drivers agree to this because Yego gives them benefits they didn’t have before (will follow this up in another article hopefully).

What data is driving our city authorities’ proclamations?

The bedrock of the Yegomoto solution is software and data. Have our authorities attempted to understand the data before proffering a solution? In the case of Yegomoto, it took them 18 months of research, 1500 rides around the city and more than 1000 interviews with passengers and drivers before they started thinking of a solution.

Ultimately Yego is a payments platform and a transport and delivery platform. But they build to this end layer by layer. I am not convinced our city authorities or whoever is calling the shots know what they are doing. Get out of this space and let startups solve this one.

Would Yego come to Zimbabwe?

An emphatic yes. I did not need to convice the Yego Innovision CEO Karanvir Singh about the opportunity here. As soon as I explained how everything was converging: graduation to cashlessness, a government that is desperate for foreign investment, growing internet penetration etc he was already eager to come in and talk to a few people I thought could be a good starting point.

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28 thoughts on “The Move To Banish Kombis From Harare City Centre Could Signal Opportunity For Startups

  1. We don’t want scooters Juno, like Tinashe said “kwira wega scooter” we don’t want that nonsense here …..

    1. Oh the guy was serious? No they won’t bring scooters. They found scooters already present in Rwanda and they built a system on top of that.
      In fact, they say their end game is to get the drivers away from that business into more sustainable businesses

  2. Wow that is a huge opportunity I must say plus ey will jus be adopting the same system on our commuter omnibus not necessarily coming in with scooters. Though on the pricing of fares how can I combi carrying 18 passengers calculate their fares separately and charge them separately not forgetting the countless drop-offs

    1. Ye, no bringing of scooters.
      We discussed how fares work here. Our set up is actually easier for them because here we use fixed fares so the solution to be built has to be around that. Boith kombis and mushikashika. The only way to keep these guys from being a menace is to empower them to be better.
      And hey, the solution need not come through Yego Inovision. All we need is a startup that is willing to put in millions of dollars to solve this problem. It could even be Steward Bank, I see their moves

      1. Who is the person who told you that a startup needs millions of dollars? And, is the problem even worth a million dollars to solve? You guys here are always coming up with start-up “opportunities”, but I don’t think you look at the praticality. Your start-up proposal is by creating a parallel opportunity based on non-parallel environments. That is the reason why most Zimbabwean startups fail, or struggle for years. People try and implement ideas from elsewhere that are not well suited to Zimbabwe, by drawing imaginary parallels, because Uber (or, some other successful startup) is making millions and they think they will be rolling in money. You should try start something up and you’ll see that funding, whilst problematic, is the least of your problems.

        The presence of a problem is not the key ingredient for a tech startup, the key ingredient is when technology offers the best solution. Personally, I don’t think our kombi woes are best solved by tech. They are best solved by infrastructure and better planning, meaning that a change in the the mindset of the authorities can easily make your startup irrelevant overnight.

        1. I agree with you on not just imitating stuff. What I like about what Yego did was that they deliberately did not imitate Uber. They looked at the Rwanda situation and built a solution for it specifically. And yes, they are working with the government because investing in infrastructure type solutions without plugging into the policy and government vision/trajectory can mean losing money because the government is going some other direction.

          Zim needs to have that. A look at the urban transport system and identify what solutions need to be put in place: software or otherwise. If the solution does not cost money then awesome but if it does then it has to be private sector in partnership with the authorities so there is no reductive developments policy wise.

  3. the ‘start ups’ that will benefit are those with 7 seater vehicles like the ipsum, wish and the touran, they’ll benefit from ferrying commuters straight into town with out the head of being a kombi. moving people is no small matter. if they closing one gap they’re opening up another! MDC council + Zanu central gvt = a nation stuck in reverse!!!

  4. The digital platform Yego can be appreciated for it’s potential and applicability in other transportation sectors. It’s the lousy scooters I will have a problem with. Forget scooters but port the platform to other modes of transportation.

    1. Yes just the platform!

      Citizen thayt could be a development the powers that be may not have thought about… Hande ne ipsum

  5. By the way, Bulawayo is not doing the same thing. Hre is banning Kombis from the CBD, Byo is temporarily moving vendors and kombis from the major kombi terminus (egodini) to pave way for the construction of better termina + shopping mall. Hre and By are world’s apart in terms of policy making and implementation.

    1. Yes, very sorry I just realised.

      Yes Bulawayo is better managed. The3 city is a joy to live in

  6. Tingataura zvese izvi asi ini nhasi the 22nd of Feb 2018 chachondibata. Ndakwidzwa shuttle ndikanonoka kubasa.

  7. You should learn one thing … by the time things happen like this in Zimbabwe, meetings have been set , revenue forecasts have been made, those getting money know they are getting it, the rest is just formalization. Your startups will have to eat with those bosses nothing revolutionary can be done.

    1. I don’t know about the actual developers (coders) but the founder is Indian based in Rwanda though

  8. This sounds to me like a tracking system combined with e-commerce for payment.. The bike’s probably fitted with a GPS tracking device (which calculates distance travelled) and calculates the trip fare based on a rate per km. The passenger then pays at the destination. Lovely system. Tracking systems can detect driving behaviour, impact, etc

    1. Yes exactly, it’s as simple as that. I was mostly impressed by the tracking and data collection. Their end game is payments and also delivery because all these drivers can be used as outsourced delivery agents

  9. hahaha this is insanity are the shuttle buses for free? This is uncalled for, we wont vote for such a government

  10. Don’t blame city councils. Have you cared to think about how much they are owed by central gvt- you will be shocked. Talk about corruption, both public and pvt sectors, you will be shocked into speechlessness. A greater number of our kombis are owned by law enforcement guys. Am glad that with the new dispensation there seems to be a ray of hope.

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