Carpooling is making a comeback, a flexible and affordable solution that is appealing to more consumers every day.
By Brian Yatich
Carpooling has been around for a long time, but today it has morphed to an entirely new concept as the interest in the idea is spreading.
More people adopting the car-sharing prospect. The increase has been majorly catapulted by the suburban sprawl and the need to save on cost and efficiency.
Carpooling apps and websites are hugely successful in countries where overpopulation and a continuously grid-locked traffic network forces many to find ingenious methods to get around.
With approximately 48 million people in Kenya, the transport system still lies in a similar deplorable state relying on traditional modes of public transport.
With this grave realization, many startups and companies are looking to technology as a potential problem-solver to improve commuting.
With carpooling, experts believe that it will reduce the number of cars on our roads thereby reducing carbon emissions to the environment and decongesting cities of traffic.
Tapping on this growing opportunity is Saafiri, an app that connects car owners with empty seats with passengers travelling towards the same destination so that they can share travel costs.
“Saafiri is a mobile app with government ID verified members that help users find, connect and carpool with others going the same way. The driver and passengers all share journey costs, which works out cheaper for everyone. You no longer have to depend on public transport schedule, nor do you have to go on long tedious car journeys all by yourself,” Mike Muriuki CEO Saafiri.
According to Muriuki, the name Saafiri is loosely derived from Saa (time) and safari (travel) an idea of saving time on travel.
After losing his car to auctioneers, Muriuki’s travel pattern changed, so he had to adjust to using matatus and taxis.
“Matatus were not convenient for me due to the rigid nature of their routing,” He recalls.
“One time I wanted to travel home and as I was waiting for the matatus I saw a lot of people stranded waiting for matatus as well and others driving alone in their cars and I was like if they were going where I was going I wouldn’t mind paying for the ride,”.
Then an idea hit him, Muriuki thought how he would connect people travelling towards the same direction to share a ride and share the commute costs. “There was no platform online for carpooling,”
Saafiri platform was born out of the notion of bringing efficiency to road transport, solve congestion problems, and make travel affordable and social.
Muriuki saw the full potential of a peer-to-peer transport network, and the huge environmental and economic benefits of enabling more efficient use of existing resources.
To propel his idea even further, Saafiri has partnered with several firms including Speed Capital, County Capital and a host of professionals in the transport and technology industry to provide Saafiri mentorship and technological expertise on key issues relating to the ride-sharing economy using technology.
“We are also working to partner with players in the energy industry, Insurance firms, garages, Retail outlets, PR firms and international bodies to serve communities, ease congestion on our roads and save the environment,” he says.
Muriuki notes that carpooling is not new in Kenya, adding that people have been sharing rides organically where drivers would pick up passengers even without knowing them.
“But now, Saafiri is using technology to connect users who are vetted and verified to create a travel community based on trust and that is well organized and brings efficiency to the road transport,” he says.
The reluctance to sharing something as personal as a car with strangers due to security reasons is a concern, even at its peak; carpooling relies on trust, so how can such a firm build trust?
“Creating a community of trust is very important for us” Muriuki points out. “As people are naturally hesitant about sharing car space with a stranger, it was important for the brand to address and overcome these concerns head-on,”
With the Saafiri platform, Muriuki notes that all drivers are subjected to background checks before their first trip.
“Before anyone can share a ride with Saafiri, they must undergo a multi-step safety screening, including being checked for driving violations, impaired driving, violent crime, and other checks. In addition, Saafiri will also rescreen drivers every year,” he says.
Muriuki reveals that each member creates a profile and all profiles, photos, ratings and rides are moderated by the app. “It’s also easy to view the wider social profiles of members by looking at how many Facebook friends or other social media connection a member has,”.
In an emergency, speed and accuracy are critical; Saafiri has an SOS number that users use, the app displays your live location and trip details, so passengers can share them with the emergency team.
The app has a “Ladies Only” feature which allows members to plan a ride where the driver and all passengers are women.
“For many women, carpooling can raise concerns about security, and although Saafiri has several safety features that create a secure and trusted community, it may happen that some women still don’t feel comfortable sharing a ride with a man they don’t know. That’s why Saafiri created Ladies Only,” he says.
“We use technology to help keep your phone number private”, Muriuki says, “So neither drivers nor riders will see each other’s numbers when communicating through the Saafiri. Once a trip is completed, the app also protects rider information by concealing specific pickup and drop-off addresses in a driver’s trip history,”
Since establishing the venture, Muriuki notes that the concept of carpooling has excited Kenyans based on the fact that it is cost-effective and convenient.
“With rapidly rising fuel prices, high taxi fares and a rigid public transport system has come increased interest in carpooling, the concept of carpooling has excited Kenyans and beyond based on the fact we all have to travel, we want to save and it would be great to travel with trusted people cheaply and conveniently,” he says.
He reveals that funding has been a big challenge for them, especially being a tech firm as the service requires constant upgrading and maintenance.
“We are looking for seed funds from different ventures and individuals to set up the right team, marketing, equipment and product development,”
Also, he notes, trust is a big issue. “People are a lot more paranoid about letting strangers ride in their cars but we are encouraging people to have full profiles which we vet and users to leave ratings for each other to create a trust-based travel community,”.
Looking ahead, the founder hopes that Saafiri will grow the sharing economy in Kenya by providing a new transport network built on people that could bring efficiency to road transport, solve congestion problems, and make travel affordable and social.
“In the next five years we want to have made entrances in new markets across Africa and also expand our portfolio in Delivery Services, Vanpools, Bikepool and anything that is transport,” he says.
Mike Muriuki’s background is in business management and marketing, “But I was always interested in technology which I studied on my own,” he concludes.