Coast Bus Managing Director Ajaz Mirza

Coast Bus Managing Director Ajaz Mirza

Business24

Then in 2012, after more than 50 years in operation, one of the oldest and largest transport companies in East Africa, Akamba Bus shut down.

Weekend Business talked to Coast Bus Managing Director Ajaz Mirza who has steered the firm for the last 40 years about what it takes to run a bus service company.

How have you managed to survive in such a volatile and turbulent business for 58 years? The climate we operate in has been very volatile and turbulent at many stages. Our ability to adapt to changes in passenger travelling trends and regulations that govern the business has given us the edge to outsmart out competitors.

How has the business landscape changed over these years? The bus business has changed over the last six decades, with the biggest change seen in the last decade.

Buses ranging from low cost to super luxury buses can now be seen on Kenyan roads everywhere. In the past, there were just a few key operators running major routes. Today, you will find all types of buses catering for all types of customers in almost every single town.

In this business, what works and what doesn?t? There is no right or wrong in passenger transport, especially in today?s business setting. The level of competition is so high that one must bring in new and innovative ways of transporting passengers and remaining profitable.

In order to succeed, one must remember whom they are serving: the customer! We have seen many bus companies come and go and this is due to lack of foresight. The bus owners often lose sight of why they are operating and become too greedy chasing profits. The end result is not always pleasant as the customers simply walk away. You make one mistake and there are many buses across the street waiting to take your passengers.

What advice would you give entrepreneurs keen to succeed in Kenya?s passenger transport business? Patience and perseverance are a must in this industry. Challenges from the office, workshop and on the road can be every transporter?s nightmare but someone has got to do it. For any business to succeed, it must have a good team and be like any well-oiled machine. The sum of all parts contributes to the final delivery of service or product.

You run a fleet of coaches on the Nairobi-Mombasa route. Yet, this has always been known to be a price-sensitive market. How has this product been received? Initially, we offered one basic product and that was our regular service from Mombasa to Nairobi.

However, over the years we have come up with different services, as competition from other operators has been intense. The services we offer range from simple basic economy, no frills buses that charge as low as Sh900 from Mombasa to Nairobi to luxury buses with air-conditioning, washrooms and hostesses onboard who serve light snacks for passengers who like to be pampered on their travel.

What is your take on the new rules for the industry currently being implemented by the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA)? The systematic measures taken by the authority were initially seen as intrusive but have been welcomed widely after sanity was brought into our industry. We had rogue bus operators operating without insurance and adequate safety measures on our roads, filling their pockets with money while exposing innocent Kenyan lives to danger on the highways.

How has greater regulation impacted the sector? Are you comfortable with the level of regulation? The level of regulation has been increasing since NTSA started its operations and we welcome the systematic manner in which it implements such. In the future, we would like to see a better road network.

What are some of the challenges that continue to impact your performance in this industry? The biggest challenge in the industry has been traffic jams. Traffic jams cause buses and passenger a lot of delays and can really affect our service delivery. The poor state of roads then adds to passenger discomfort and in turn has more wear and tear on our buses reducing a bus? operational life. Rising costs of fuel and the volatile exchange rates increase operational costs.

If you were to start all over again, would you invest your capital in the same business? It would not be the most sensible thing to do. The bus market is now saturated and key players can be seen expanding to new horizons, looking for ways to make money. Almost every route now has different classes of buses operating ranging from luxury to low cost operators. Regulations in the business are making it difficult to operate easily like before and the increase in costs is making it difficult for business that wish to start up.

What next? I can say I have done it all in my 40 years at the helm of Coast Bus. Our plan is to expand to new routes, offer new products and services.

By Dominic Omondi, The Standard

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