Feature: Kenyan taxi drivers enjoy business boom thanks to high-speed SGR train

Source: Xinhua| 2019-11-28 23:24:16|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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by Bedah Mengo

NAIROBI, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) -- At the standard gauge railway (SGR) train terminus in Kenya's capital Nairobi, dozens of cars were parked at an open space recently as some dropped travelers rushing to board the 2 pm express train to Mombasa.

A good number of the vehicles that were parked at the station and those that dropped passengers were taxis.

The taxis have become one of the biggest beneficiaries of the train service, as the operators cash in on citizens seeking affordable and convenient travel. Thousands of passengers use the train to and from Nairobi and Mombasa every day.

The train is currently fully booked, on most of the days, according to the ticketing system, and as the December peak season approaches, more coaches will be added increasing the number of travelers using the service.

The high number of passengers has become a boon to the taxi drivers, who make brisk business ferrying people to and from various SGR train stations.

Fred Osore is a taxi driver in Kitengela, a middle-income suburb on the south of the capital Nairobi.

Osore said two days cannot pass without him ferrying passengers to or from the station.

"The train service has become a blessing to my business. I ferry up to 10 people a week to and from the train station and it is getting busier as the festive season approaches," he said.

Initially, he was ferrying most people to the airport but once the high-speed train service was started, the trend shifted.

"I charge 1,500 shillings (15 U.S. dollars) from Kitengela and 10 dollars from Mlolongo to the station. Going by the number of people I serve, the service is popular," he said.

Most of those he is currently taking to the station are families going for holiday. "Many people are taking their children to Mombasa for early holiday before it gets busier as Christmas beckons," he said.

Besides the main train station, he also ferries and picks other travelers from the Athi River train station.

"To me, the train service has come with huge benefits. If the train was not there, perhaps I would not be able to educate my two children or pay rent," he said.

Unlike Osore, taxi driver Bernard Karanja operates most of the time at the main terminus.

He goes there mainly to ferry passengers who have arrived from Mombasa. "The good thing with the train service is that the arrival and departure times are known, which makes it easier to plan. The first train from Mombasa normally arrives at about 2 p.m., so I go there in advance to scout for customers," he said.

He returns later to pick more passengers when the 7 p.m. train arrives. He charges customers depending on the distance but his minimal fee is 10 dollars.

"Every vehicle pays a dollar to access the station, which I believe is a fair charge especially for us in business," he said, noting motorbike taxi operators are also cashing in on the service, ferrying to and from the main road those going to board the train or public service vehicles.

Digital taxi drivers are the other big beneficiaries of the train service as many travelers hail them via mobile apps.

"It costs about 7 dollars to use the hailing app taxis when there is no traffic jam from Nairobi city centre. I find it fair," said Rachel Wanjuki, a frequent user of the train service.

It is a similar case in the coastal city of Mombasa, where taxi drivers are charging 13 dollars from the main station to the town center," he said.

As at Aug. 8, the passenger train had operated for 800 days, according to Africa Star which runs the service and maintains the railway line.

The popular service had, similarly, ferried 949,000 passengers between Jan. 1 to Aug. 8 and over 3 million since its launch in May, 2017.

Ernest Manuyo, a business lecturer at Pioneer Institute in Nairobi, noted while the train service has disrupted business for some people, it has largely benefited hundreds of others.

"Airlines and bus companies are some of those feeling the pinch but thousands are travelling conveniently and the likes taxi drivers have found a source of livelihood. We should celebrate these benefits," he said.