Kenyan transport startup wins $1m Hult Prize

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Kenyan startup Magic Bus Ticketing, an offline app that allows urban commuters to check public bus schedules and book tickets, has been named winner of the Hult Prize, taking home US$1 million in seed capital.

The annual Hult Prize is funded by EF Education First founder Bertil Hult and operates in partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative.

Kenya’s Magic Bus Ticketing is the 2016 winner, walking away with US$1 million in seed capital after beating off competition from five other finalists chosen from a pool of 25,000 applicants from across the world. The team is made up of four students who met as undergraduates at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana.

The app allows commuters to check in real-time the location and cost of their bus, as well as book and pay for a seat. It describes itself as the “Uber for buses, but offline”. Its USSD application can be accessed from any basic phone, with the startup looking to address the long waiting times and overcharging that commuters face on a daily basis.

Magic Bus Ticketing has been piloting in Nairobi since May, with co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Leslie Ossete telling Disrupt Africa it provides valuable information and booking services to commuters.

“Commuters can wait and queue for up to two hours to get into a bus. They are often being overcharged up to half of their daily income by the bus operators. This inconsistent pricing in bus fares is random and varies with the time of the day, the weather, and the current demand,” she said.

“We decided to focus our startup on how to optimise public transport in Africa to ensure greater access to social services such as jobs, education, and healthcare. We think of the current chaos in the public bus transport in Africa as a logistics problem. There is a mismatch between the supply of buses and the demand from commuters. We believe that technology can be a tool to bridge this gap.”

Since it launched its pilot, 73 per cent of the commuters using its service have done so more than three times, which Ossete said demonstrates the relevance of the tool. Magic Bus Ticketing is now planning its official launch.

“We have had successful results so far, with more than 2,000 unique users and more than 5,000 bus tickets booked through Magic Bus Ticketing. By the end of 2018, we hope to expand our services to the rest of East Africa, where market conditions are similar to those in Kenya,” she said.

Meanwhile, applications are now open for next year’s edition of the Hult Prize here.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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