SWVL Kenya: The things the company needs to fix

I have been using SWVL for the longest time now. I love planning my days well, and the service has really helped out on this. You can’t rely on matatus in Nairobi: stopping everywhere, pricing changes, breaking down, and many other challenges.

Over the months I’ve used the service, I’ve noticed many challenges. I’ve raised most of these issues through in-app feedback – to no response. I believe writing about them here would probably have a bigger impact. Because I want to see these challenges addressed ASAP.

SWVL has grown tremendously from just two routes, to over 70 right now. The routes I frequent are now always fully booked. And with the growth, many many problems have arisen.

I signed up for SWVL because of the promise of premium rides. Matatus are hell. SWVL promised premium, safe, comfortable rides. I feel like the challenges of expansion are making them lose it. The app is buggy, the new 14-seaters aren’t comfortable, the drivers aren’t sure of things, and don’t get me started on bus delays.

What I know is most of these challenges can be fixed easily. SWVL has both the resources, the capacity, and the data to address all these concerns if it wants to.

The App:

It was forgivable at first to have an app that would force you to sign in every day, an app that would on some occasions take forever to load, an app that would refuse to book, or apply a promo code. But over 7 months later, this shouldn’t be the case.

Here are the major complaints:

  • App refuses to open. You are stuck on the SWVL logo for a long while. Waiting.
  • App refuses to book a trip.
  • App refuses to apply promo code
  • App doesn’t show you the NUMBER PLATE of the bus/coach/mini-van you’ve booked
  • App doesn’t NOTIFY you when bus is arriving, or when it has arrived.
  • App doesn’t show you where the bus is when you’re waiting at the stage, and it has delayed.

Either of the following has happened to me on different instances. I’ve failed to book a trip because the app either completely refused to launch, or to book, or to apply a code.

The worst bit though is when you’ve already booked a bus, and you’re at the stage waiting, but can’t tell what number plate you’re waiting for.

Bus Delays:

I know this isn’t something that we can fault SWVL for. This is a city that’s full of traffic. The fault lies with the governments we elect, and the middle class (lol). But a simple notification that the bus will delay by say 5 or 10 minutes isn’t an impossible feature to include. The data collected over the 6+ months of operation is enough to map out this.

The morning commutes are always on time, on my route at least. Between 6am and 11am, almost all buses leave on time. The evening commutes however are the big challenge. Especially if you’re waiting for a bus in town.

Making people stand at their stages for over 40 minutes waiting for a bus is unacceptable. I know SWVL compensates for delays, but the issue is notification.

Tell me a bus will be late by 20 minutes, so that I can use that time doing something more constructive rather than standing at a stage playing guess games with a buggy app. It becomes worse when it rains. How premium is a ride, if you’re rained on waiting for it for over half an hour?

I’ve noticed you actually arrive on time using a matatu in the evening than relying on a SWVL.

The Captains/Drivers:

When the service was just starting out, the drivers were really good. If say your bus was to leave at 9am, you would get a call from the driver asking where you were if you hadn’t made it to the bus yet. The app says the driver should wait 2 minutes before leaving.

Nowadays you can find very bad drivers who don’t care. Remember the app is buggy, and you may not get a notification the bus has arrived. Or the app may refuse to show you the model, or number plate of the bus. You may be a distance away from the bus waiting for things to work, only to realise you’ve been left because driver arrived and left.

  • I’ve had an instance where a driver left at 9.14am instead of 9.15 (+2). I was a few metres away from him, and he refused to stop when I waved and called. SWVL said sorry, and compensated me, but the plans for the day had been ruined already.
  • I’ve also noticed drivers who deliberately waste time when the trip is beginning. They just ignore the time while waiting for no one in particular. This happens almost daily with my routes 9am bus.
  • I’ve had more than 5 instances where the bus arrives with no notifications on my side, and when I ask the driver why, is when they click on their app and then the notifications that “bus has arrived” appear.
  • I’ve also seen drivers stop in the middle of the road, walk back to a stage they’d passed to click on the app because they’d forgotten to, or because the app had issues. All while leaving passengers in the middle of the highway!

The Buses:

I really love the Coaster Buses. And I always try to book times when I know I’ll be using one of them. Nowadays though, there are many 14-seaters all over. (I have been asking myself if they are supposed to comply with Matatu rules – including having the yellow-band – but that’s a discussion for another time). The 14-seaters are very uncomfortable. It’s like going back to the matatus SWVL is competing against.

Remember SWVL came in as a premium service. The 200 bob they ask for is supposed to give customers a premium experience that’s different from matatus.

One of the 14-seater SWVLs

Cancellation Policy:

I hate this. I hate this. Everyone hates this. You’re charged for cancelling a trip. What if the trip delayed, and you wanted to use other means? What if you just changed your mind? I’ve been affected by this feature so many times, it is annoying. Sometimes I’ve booked a trip maybe a day before, and something came up, and I am charged for it.

Please remove this, streamline things first, and re-think it when every other thing works perfectly. Review Uber, and other Taxi Apps cancellation, and see how better to do this.

Suggestions to SWVL:

As a customer, and as someone who’s rooting for SWVL, I understand the challenges of expanding, and I know they’re looking to have big numbers to prove viability, and to get more investors on board. However, I don’t believe things should be done at the expense of quality, and assurance. What then happens after the promo codes? And with the plans to have dynamic pricing, won’t things totally go haywire?

Here are my suggestions:

  • Work on the App. Get the people involved in development to try it out themselves especially at peak times.
  • Plan rides better. Add notifications in case of delays. It is frustrating to be standing at a stage for over 30 minutes waiting for a bus. One could as well be lining up for normal matatus.
  • Train your captains well. Please.
  • Check the buses, and mini vans before you get them on board. If you’re supposed to offer premium rides, then let the rides actually feel premium. Make sure seating space is good.

One Comment

  1. Hi Dickson, I noticed the SWVL pop and kept wondering what this is about. Well upon searching on Google I saw your review on this service which I thought is a great alternative to our noisy matatus.

    Your feedback is thoroughly and informative to potential customers, it certainly helped me make the decision not use the service based on some of the issues you highlighted.

    Keep up the good work and I hope the SWVL representatives take your feedback seriously.

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