Emanamba numbers are not working as 256bus makes an entry in Uganda

Very few people make me happy and the few who do are those who either give me money or saves me money. It’s all about money. And that’s why when in 2009 I became Facebook friends with Emanamba, my joy was elated. They saved my close friend a lot of stress, and money.

During the peak travel seasons like December, moving out of Nairobi to any rural parts of Kenya or down coast can be a nightmare. Bus fares more than double, at times triple, but that’s if you are lucky to get a seat in the first place. To work around this, Emanamba launched the bus e-booking in Kenya and partnered with Mash Bus Services. I can’t remember how much people saved but if you booked via Emanamba, you were assured of getting your seat. Mash always reserved two or so seats for customers to book via Emanamba. They even promoted online booking at the counter.

Emanamba became semi-popular then something happened, something I can’t lay my hands on, Emanamba suddenly became a non-entity in Kenya’s Ecommerce landscape. I don’t know whether their fall was due to this huge challenge all Ecommerce players are facing – The Kenyans’ lack of appreciation of Ecommerce platforms or something. One of the things that happened with Emanamba is that they closed down their Facebook Page – despite having gathered a whooping 540+  likes (that was a big deal early in the days).

Three days ago I received a press release from a new Startup – Finlay Capital Limited located in Kampala Uganda. Finlay Capital has launched an online bus booking service via 256bus.com for Uganda and nearby regions. This is how the press release goes:

256bus.com, a brand under the Finlay Capital
Limited, has commenced bus ticket booking services in Uganda and on major
regional routes.  www.256bus.com  is simple to use and lets you choose
your preferred bus operator and specific seat. Payments are done using
mobile money or cash. The actual ticket is sent to you by sms or by email,
if you provided an email address.  Bookings can also be done over the
phone to 256bus’s customer care or over the counter at affiliate travel

Tebandeke Joseph, Founder and CEO, 256bus.com

“The idea to start this bus ticketing service was fueled by the usual
Christmas and Easter holiday scramble for bus seats,” says Tebandeke
Joseph, CEO, 256bus.com.  His idea of bus travel is futuristic, but very
practical. Leaning back in his office chair, he explains farther.
256bus.com is a win-win concept for both passengers and bus operators.
Passengers save time that is usually wasted going to bus company offices
to book tickets in advance. Bus companies get assured customers, and hence
focus on fleet management, customer care and time management. Bus travel
should not be any different from travel by air.”

Nakawooya Shamim, a mobile phone dealer at Mutaasa Kafeero plaza makes her
bus ticket bookings to and from Nairobi, over the phone. She is grateful
that with a single phone call, she has room to choose which bus company to
travel with, her favorite seat and preferred timing.

The press release came at a time I wanted to travel to Nairobi, and it reminded me of Emanamba. So two days ago I logged into Emanamba’s booking portal, and I clicked Book Now. Sadly, results were that there were no buses available for that route. At the bottom of the page though, listed were Easy Coach buses that were traveling from different places, through Nakuru to Nairobi. Given the high price listing and the unavailability of my travel choice, I decided that I should call Emanamba about the anomaly.

The listed numbers were not going through – all of them. Emanamba used to have many bus companies, in addition to Mash and Easy Coach, associated with them. If everything went right, Emanamba could be the biggest name in online bus booking in East Africa.

You should visit Mololine and 2NK Nairobi bus stops every Friday evening and Saturday throughout the day. There is always a crowd you’d only find in political rallies waiting to travel from Nairobi to Nakuru. The same is replicated in Nakuru every Sunday and Monday when the crowd has to travel back to Nairobi.

If however Emanamba was effective and efficient, then travelers could simply book their mats online, know the particular mat/bus they’ll use, and keep track of the departure time. This way, the number of hours wasted waiting for a mat to come all the way from the other side to come and pick them up would be saved doing useful things and saying bye to loved ones in the house.

And I am sure you are aware of Uber and EasyTaxi, the guys that are taking Kenya’s taxi industry by storm. Both of those guys are outsiders, Uber from US and EasyTaxi from Brazil. If Emanamba made her footing in the public transport sector and became the default online booking system for long haul travel, it would be easy for them to give Uber and EasyTaxi a run for their money in the taxi business across the country.

Now that 256bus.com is up and running, I wait to see how quick they will be in changing the travel culture in Uganda and if they’ll break through the Kenyan market. If they succeed where Emanamba didn’t, then indeed we shall come back and blame it all on Emanamba.


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