Would you share a private car with a stranger headed in the same direction and share the costs instead of taking a taxi or matatu?
Well, it seems some Nairobi residents are increasingly adopting carpooling to save themselves from the high cost and bad driving habits of matatu drivers.
At Car Wash, a sprawling middle-class neighbourhood in Kasarani, residents share a ride every morning, saving money and time spent in traffic, and arriving at work in style and more comfortably.
They are also escaping a desperate situation: the dire lack of public service vehicles (PSVs). The few that ply this route often leave them stranded on the busy highway with no connecting vehicles into the estate.
Car Wash estate is located between the Roysambu and Githurai 45 neighbourhoods, on the outskirts of Nairobi.
Isolated between two major highway exit points, the area has no dedicated PSVs, and so residents created a carpooling scheme.
Ms Judy Mugo is a resident of Kasarani. She lives at a place called Seasons, which is closer to Mwiki Road than it is to Thika Road.
For her commute to town, where she works as a customer care agent at a bank, she opts to walk hundreds of metres to Car Wash. Her aim? To ride-share with the residents there.
âBefore carpooling, I used to be seated in a matatu at 5.30am. Then I would arrive in town very early and idle around waiting for the bank to open,â says Ms Mugo.
But if Ms Mugo decided to leave her house late, she would always get to town late for work.
âIt takes more than an hour to access town via public means, and you pay Sh80 while it takes me a maximum of 40 minutes in a private car and I pay Sh50.â
Victor Mwaura, a young businessman based in Ngara, has also ditched matatus and depends solely on carpooling to get to work.
Private car owners who spoke to the Sunday Nation said the motivation behind ride-sharing is simply to help distraught residents.
âI live in Kahawa Sukari. I decided to start sharing my car when I saw the number of people stranded by the roadside,â says Timothy Odhiambo, who often stops to pick up residents on his way to town.
It has been one year since he started sharing his car with Car Wash residents.
âI pick up passengers daily on my way to town for business. I do it out of kindness,â Mr Odhiambo insists, âThe Sh50 they pay as fare does not make much financial sense to me.â
His sentiments are shared by Stephen Njenga, a businessman based in Westlands, who picks up passengers at least thrice a week, depending on his schedule.
The ride-sharing concept here is disorganised as passengers scramble for cars. This puts off some drivers, who drive off never to stop again.
Mr Odhiambo claims to have stopped picking up passengers for some time after losing his side mirror in the scramble.
Ms Mugo wishes passengers would queue up to board.
Ride-sharing is widespread in the US and western countries, but it is still relatively new in Kenya.
âThe concept here is informal, but is more common upcountry, where a person going to the city will stop at the matatu stage and pick up a passenger or two,â says Ms Kellie Murungi, senior consultant at Lattice Consulting, a boutique finance and strategy advisory firm.
But the Car Wash example perhaps points to a country that is ripe for organised carpooling.
Ms Nancy Njeri, former Kiambu County executive committee member for transport, now the transport planning manager at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, said carpooling is a good concept that the government should promote and encourage.
âThere is a need to come up with policy guidelines and change regulations with a view to promoting it rather than discouraging it,â says Ms Njeri.
But in terms of policy and regulation, the Traffic Act, for instance, prohibits private cars from engaging in the business of ferrying travellers.
This, experts say, creates an impediment to ride-sharing.
But Ms Murungi is of the opinion that the law need not hold back carpooling efforts.
âThe law may prohibit private cars from carrying passengers commercially, but the law does not prohibit a neighbour from giving a ride to another, and neither does it prohibit the neighbour from helping the car owner pay for the fuel.
But just how can neighbours go about sharing rides with each other?
The biggest hurdle when it comes to sharing rides, Ms Murungi says, is trust between the parties.
âMost neighbourhoods have WhatsApp groups. It might be more useful to have them use these groups to organise ride-sharing, as opposed to the current setup, which may even expose the drivers to dangerous passengers and vice versa,â she says.
Most drivers we spoke to could not explain how they plan to indemnify themselves against the glaring risk of carjacking. Neither could passengers tell us how they plan to mitigate against abduction risks.
But for the country to put the mass transport crisis in cities behind it, Ms Murungi posits, it has to go beyond mere rides.
âA lot of the driving we do is unnecessary â many people who live 10-15km from the office should not be driving to work. The government should provide paved roads for walking and cycling that make these alternatives safe and viable for everyone,â she says.
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