Since the launch of Madarak Express otherwise known as SGR Trains back in June 2017, there have been mixed reviews on the experience of using the trains, right from traveling to the train stations, booking the tickets, waiting, enjoying the 5 hour journey between Nairobi and Mombasa,to arrival at the final destination.
Top of the reviews has been the presence of middlemen who sell the Madaraka Express tickets at a premium. This is because more often than not, an individual arrives at the booking office only to learn that all the tickets have been bought. However when this individual walks out of the booking office, he or she would be met by middlemen who have bought the tickets in advance to sell to them for as much as Kshs 3000 instead of the normal rate of Kshs 700.
The middlemen exist because until now there are no assured ways to book tickets online and pay through our popular mobile money platform, MPESA. Although an online platform was unveiled shortly after the launch of Madaraka Express, this online platform did not incorporate the use of MPESA for payments. Several travelers have also written that the online booking hasn’t been able to work effectively where some attendants refusing to accept advanced booked tickets via the platform.
To alleviate the challenges so far experienced on bookings for Madaraka Express, Kenya Railways has introduced a new booking platform that utilizes the traditional USSD feature. Starting tomorrow, travelers with Madaraka Express will be in a position to book tickets up to seven days in advance through their ordinary phones by dialing *639# and afterwards making payments for the tick via MPESA. Kenya Railways views the new method of booking as a method that will help get rid of the middlemen who have taken over ticketing at SGR Stations. “We are seeking to leverage the technology offered by the new platform to counter the secondary market of tickets by middlemen who have taken advantage of the use of the stations as the main source of tickets,” said Kenya Railways (KR) Managing Director Atanas Maina yesterday.
In addition to being able to book for tickets seven days in advance, the USSD *639# booking method will also make it possible for an individual to book for up to 5 separate tickets. “Through the platform, we hope to make it more convenient for Kenyans seeking to travel to plan their journey in advance and make bookings on time. The system will also require those making bookings to provide their names and national identity card number except for minors”, explained Mr. Atanas Maina.