The public transport sector in Kenya is largely traditional and most carriers, especially those in road transport, still require their customers to physically book their tickets at the office, even when making travel plans in advance. Others have no seat reservation facilities.
To bridge the gap, booking platforms are coming into the space, inclusive BuuPassactively seeking order in the highly fragmented industry by helping operators digitize their operations.
Founded in Kenya seven years ago, the company plans to scale first in Kenya and Uganda before exploring other markets, backed by a $1.3 million pre-seed funding it raised from the Founders Factory Africa, FrontEnd Ventures, Adaverse, Gullit, Five35, Renew Capital, Changecom, XA Network, Ajim Capital, Artha Ventures, Daba Finance, Google Black Founders Fund and various angel investors.
“The funding will enable us to invest in growth businesses, increasing our market share in East Africa, with a focus on Kenya and Uganda. We will be hiring a team, especially on the growth side, and technology experts so that we can build scalable systems, as our plan is to become a pan-African infrastructure for long-haul transportation,” said co-CEO, Sonia Kabrawho co-founded with BuuPass Wycliffe Omondi in 2016.
BuuPass, a B2B2C full-stack marketplace, provides operators with a bus management system (BMS) to manage their operations, inventory and sales. It then connects them to its marketplace, where passengers search, compare and book their tickets through a variety of channels, including websites, apps and USSD codes.
The BMS includes a point of sale solution to record transactions and provide access to a package management module.
BuuPass says operators using the BMS can better manage their fleets and businesses, gain access to data they can use to gain insights and reduce money leaks, while increasing their online booking revenue.
The company says it processes about 12,000 transactions a day through its booking channels and has recorded more than 9 million card sales to date. The gross commercial value was just over $30 million in 2022.
It supports a total fleet of 1,200 vehicles from more than 25 bus companies, including one of the oldest, Easy Coach. Travelers can also book air and train tickets, which is especially useful for travelers using the country’s rail network for intercity travel.
In Kenya, BuuPass, in partnership with Safaricom, the parent company of mobile money service M-Pesa, has been awarded the contract to facilitate train bookings in 2017.
“Partnering with Safaricom enabled us to secure the deal with Kenya Railways (operators of the national train network) and validate our solution and capability to build solutions for high value transactions. It also enabled us to build trust in the market and helped us think about scale so that we have developed solutions that can handle millions of transactions and provide a seamless end-user experience. It has been a great validation for us to prove our credibility in the market,” said Kabra.
Sonia and Omondi met in 2013 at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, USA, and through their interest in entrepreneurship and their drive to provide solutions for the transportation industry in emerging markets, they co-founded the university’s first Entrepreneur Club, and BuuPass. In 2016, they won the $1 million Hult Prize, a grant backed by Bill Clinton that helped them launch BuuPass (then known as Magic Bus Ticketing) in Kenya as a B2C platform.
However, they soon realized that the idea was not feasible as most bus companies’ operations were predominantly manual, hence the need to prioritize digitalisation.
“We went deeper into the market and saw that there was a bigger problem with the bus operators; they mostly used pen and paper to buy tickets, they had no transparency in their sales. There were a lot of money leaks and they were unable to digitize and access the users who come online every day. And so we built a bus management system for them,” says Kabra.