Madaraka Express — User Experience and Innovation Opportunity

So what I aim to do here is to allow us to take a step back and start thinking of the new Standard Gauge Railway and the Madaraka express in different terms.

To do this I will not engage in a discussion of costs… there is already much of that such as this article on the Economist. The fact remains it is probably one of the largest infrastructure project the country has undertaken probably since independence — though Konza city still beats it in terms of cash spending with the city at $14.5 billion dollars compared to the SGR which to Nairobi has cost $3.27 billion… if the President and his team have their way… we should get SGR to Kisumu at $8.47 billion.

Anyway if we are spending this much we might at least demand a good user experience. But first let us remove the obvious out of the way.

Early to Launch

So far the SGR story is looking like a case of too early to launch… but then again maybe the government wants to receive user feedback in order to improve the service. Some of the symptoms of this speedy launch are obvious

  1. You cannot book online or reserve your ticket… you have to do it physically at the station and pay in cash 
    (This will be resolved starting 1st July 2017 — there is a booking system that will be rolled out and things should work pretty much the way they do for airlines and yes — Mpesa will be integrated). Also currently you can’t book earlier than three days prior to your trip (hopefully they will fix this system error to allow advance bookings)
  2. The other stations are not operational such as Voi… Only Mombasa and Nairobi are functional (Again this will be resolved starting 1st July 2017) The Madaraka Express is only doing single trips one from Nairobi and one from Mombasa everyday…this is also set to change.
Checking out Voi Station and Rail track they are due for use in July 2017

So moving away from the obvious let us look at the SGR and the Madaraka Express in user experience terms and see if there is some opportunity for design thinking and innovation.

UX Matters (Use, Usefulness and Meaning)

Time for the non obvious

This cannot be argued with…the railway and trains are means of transport. It will move people from point A to B and will move goods from point A to B. At the very least of user expectations this should be met.

A Nairobi bound bus… A transport trailer… the old railway viewed from the new Madaraka express. One SGR Madaraka express trip is equivalent to 30 bus trips and is much safer

The number of people SGR carries is at the very least 1,500 per trip and that is a massive reduction of bus trips and an increase in passenger safety.


Usefulness — Cost Savings

In terms of cost savings SGR and Madaraka express is not a cost saver. Here is why

The cost of acquiring a ticket physically and the distance to the station puts SGR two hundred shillings cheaper than Mash Bus while on first class it is 800 shillings pricier than Mash bus

In Mombasa a combination of matatu and motorcycle taxi is the cheapest coming to about 170 KES… Uber would be about 1200 KES and the usually cheap Tuk Tuks would be about 700 KES over the full distance.

However if it is your travel day — don’t take chances… take a Tuk Tuk to the railway office in Bandari which is about 100 KES from multiple locations and then take the express shuttle to the railway station for 100 KES… total 200 KES. In the early hours of the morning without trailer jam the whole trip is 30 minutes.

All the train stations seem to be crazy distances from town centers… the Voi station is 150 KES away from the town center(using boda boda motorbike )

In Nairobi city center to Syokimau would be just as challenging and costly. However the Nairobi Commuter Railway has changed this and is doing trips for 50 KES from CBD through Makadara and Imara daima stations all the way to Syokimau SGR terminus.

The Nairobi Commuter Train on the left carries passengers who have arrived from Mombasa on the SGR Madaraka Express from Syokimau Nairobi Terminus into Nairobi CBD railway station at 50 KES. They have effectively solved the problem of the SGR terminus being off the beaten path as is the case in all the towns (Voi, Mombasa etc)

Cost Savings — Innovative Opportunity

The use of free shuttles from town centers to train station could turn this around for SGR and Madaraka Express. 
Free shuttles over time could evolve into other things such as moving walks… and/or trams or intra city rail as is the case with Nairobi…but the biggest factor the government parastatals or Ministry need not be the ones coming up with these solutions or the ones to run it… but they should support the solutions.

Usefulness — Time Saver

The SGR and Madaraka express cuts time to Mombasa by more than 50% cruising from Nairobi to Mombasa at 4 hours and 45 minutes, SGR is a rock star compared to buses which take an average of 9 hours. Hopefully it will still maintain these speeds when other stations and stop overs become operational.

There is however a lot of time wasted to get to the station from town centers. In the case of Mombasa Terminus for example to get to Miritini takes at least two hours (during jam) and 30 minutes early morning.

Usefulness — Road de-congestion
From my short video it is clear driving in and out of Mombasa is a nightmare… the large trailers, truckers and petroleum tanks rule the highway causing unbelievable jams such as the two hour Miritini — Changamwe jam… unfortunately they also do more… cause major highway accidents… contribute to potholes on the road.

Trailers and Transport trucks rule Mombasa Nairobi Highway… and congest entry into Mombasa at Mariakani

Reducing the number of buses on the road is happening one SGR trip/Madaraka express trip is at least 30 bus trips

Road de-congestion Innovative Opportunity

In a conversation with my friend David Ogiga (the founder of Sote Hub)… as he weaved in and out of the long line of trucks on the A109 to Voi… David proposed business model innovation to allow trucking companies to have reserved container space on the rail… that way they would move their containers from the port using their rail space instead of truck/trailer space. This would he mused also work well with the proposed inland dry ports.

SGR has the capacity to reduce the amount of inland freight by road if innovative business models are adopted with freight and Transporter companies

The bus companies being the incumbents can also work on a sustaining innovation… pushing the whole luxury and comfort angle from booking to on-board comfort, curated stops a whole notch higher… they cannot compete on speed or safety… but they can make a longer trip more luxurious.


Desirability — Esteem

A lot of the complaints that have been leveled against the SGR show that a majority of Kenyans looked at it as more than a functional product… it was also an esteem issue supposed to match up to bullet trains and electric trains in other countries.

That notwithstanding even with the current set up issues mentioned above those who have used it say nothing beats the 4 hour trip from Nairobi to Mombasa and they would go to any trouble to get a ticket ( talk about product — market fit heaven).

Desirability — Comfort and Safety

The train is way much safer than the highway. Though there is still much to be tested when they start doing multiple trips and stopping at the other stations

The SGR isn’t overly fast… it is much more steady than a bus trip and is perfect for travelling with young children or elderly people.

Desirability — pleasure

The SGR and Madaraka express seem to have filled an unlikely niche as the best way to do domestic tourism.

The SGR is clearly meeting a need for family travel — clockwise an elderly couple… a younger couple… a toddler and a child all enjoying their time on board. The Madaraka express is comfortable and stable compared to the buses and the old trains children can play and the aged do not have to hold their hearts in their hands.

I met a friend much older than me…he is in his 50s he pointed out to his travel mates (his age mates) and explained to me that they had just decided to visit the coast… which some of them hadn’t done in their lifetimes now that an easy and cost effective means was available.

Coach manager on board the SGR and Syokimau Terminus with Tembea Kenya slogan “Visit Kenya” which clearly captures the aspirations of the SGR users

Also to die for are the views from the train… large expansive landscapes and animals in Tsavo East and West National parks.

Clockwise — children watching elephants in Tsavo National park… Baobab trees past Voi… Rugged hills of Taveta… expansive plains of Athi. The views from the SGR are awesome and it is quickly becoming the domestic tourist travel means of choice

I will be posting those on Sunday… when I make my trip. Clearly I did this :) Enjoy

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