A Nigerian app targets inter-city transportation professionals to transform mass transit experience across West Africa

This interview was originally conducted for Smart City Africa

Steppes in Sync spoke with Abuja-based software developer Ishiaku Gwamna, @benberz about inter-city transit challenges in West Africa and how his smartphone app is set to tackle them.

Steppes in Sync: You pitch MyQ app — a Seedstars World Nigeria winner — as “Uber for inter-city travel”. Are inter-city mobility apps similar to yours already deployed somewhere in Africa? Any success stories that you can point to to substantiate the value of your app?

IG: No, there is no presence of tech whatever in this sector. The only competition is the traditional way of doing it.
Success stories? Not for now. The venture is at the “build stage”now. The value proposition is twofold as the business model is B2B2C, namely:

1. To the transporter: fleet and vehicle queuing management, automatic passenger loading and manifest, e-ticketing.
2. To the passenger: access to multiple transport companies on a single platform, On-spot Real-time Trip Planning (ORTP), travel record history.

Steppes in Sync: What is a a typical inter-city traveler’s behavior in Nigeria?
IG: The system is such that the passenger will have to go to the station (motor park) and inquire for the available vehicle going to his/her intended destination. If there is one, he/she pays for a seat and waits for other passengers to arrive and do the same. If and only if the vehicle fills up does it depart.

Steppes in Sync: How does your app alter that default behavior?
IG: MyQ is an Android application that lets you check out all the transporters, their stations, destinations and ticket prices, number of vehicles currently loading and available seats — real-time, on-the-spot — then get a ticket. Then you complete the process by going to the station, getting scanned. You pay and get boarded on a vehicle for travel.

Steppes in Sync: Do many Nigerians miss inter-city buses/trains currently?

IG: There is no schedule, it is just that everyday in the morning there are — let’s say — 2, 3 or 4 vehicles traveling to your destination. They leave when the vehicles are filled up — it doesn’t matter how long it takes, they just queue up at these stations. And there are no trains, at all.

Smart city needs pyramid
Smart city needs pyramid

Steppes in Sync: What is the average waiting time in a ticket queue?

IG: Typically, when you show up at the station, you pay for a seat and wait for other passengers to arrive and do the same until the vehicle is full before the travel starts. So it could be 5 minutes. 30 minutes. Or even 2 hours. it depends on how busy passenger traffic is.

Steppes in Sync: Are inter-city mass transit companies (MTCs) privatized in Nigeria or are they mostly run by the federal government? Which form of ownership is better for the consumer in terms of quality of service?

IG: There are three kinds of operators in the inter-city mass transit sector:

1. Private operators.

2. Government-owned mass transit companies.

3. Union-run stations (aka motor parks).

In terms of quality of service, the organized private operators are the ones to go for — but are usually a bit more expensive. The government owned transporters are mostly subsidized for the average citizen, while the union-run ones are in between.

Steppes in Sync: What about inter-city trains, airlines?

IG: The inter-city trains are non-existent, dilapidated from the colonial ages. The airlines are really expensive for the average citizens so only the top 5% — well-off, middle- and high-class — choose to travel by air. The rest 95% use commercial road mass-transit.

Smart City AfricaSteppes in Sync: What convinces Nigerian MTCs to subscribe to your service?

IG: The means (technology) to documents: they can now record and capture each and every bit of transaction (real-time) taking place at the stations, at all destinations they travel to.

Steppes in Sync: Which other African countries can we expect to use your app in by early 2017?

IG: West Africa: Benin, Burkina Faso, the island of Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, the island of Saint Helena, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sao Tome and Principe, Togo

Steppes in Sync: Why are those countries in particular on your priority list?

IG: Because it is the same inter-city travel scenario and typical passenger behavior.



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