Rural Mobility

The Impact of Rural Water Transport

The rural poor constantly have to make trade-offs between travel time, cost, and safety due to limited transportation options in remote island communities.

To address these challenges, in 2016, Shell Foundation (SF) approved an incubation grant to support Globology, a low-cost ferry service provider operating in the Lake Victoria region.

Key Points

  • Consumer research study explores actual and potential impact of Globology’s ferry services on Lake Victoria
  • Shows positive impact on consumers time, safety, income and employment
  • Service has resulted in increase in local economic growth and access to key services
  • Better gender representation needs addressing to continue progress
  • Survey provides recommendations for Globology itself, but also the wider Rural Water Transport sector


Globology’s ‘Waterbus’ is the leading water transportation service on Lake Victoria and currently operates four routes: Mageta Island to Usenge, North Mfangano Island to Mbita, Louanda Kotieno  to Mbita, and Remba Island-Mfangano West to Mbita.

Although Globology provides a unique solution that can help improve rural water transportation (RWT), there is limited data both locally and nationally on the importance and impact of RWT providers for consumers.

In April 2018, Shell Foundation and Globology commissioned a consumer research study to explore the actual and potential impact of Globology’s RWT services on consumers in the Lake Victoria region and identify new markets for Globology’s services.

The evaluation focused on the four routes currently being used by the Waterbus. It involved survey interviews with 521 respondents and focus groups and interviews with local business leaders, maritime authorities, community leaders, labour unions.

Comparing Waterbus customers and non-customers’ socio-economic profiles and means of travelling

Waterbus customers

  • 39% were SMEs
  • 26% worked in fishing or fish trading
  • 85% use ferries as their primary means of transportation


Non-Waterbus customers

  • 25% of respondents were SMEs
  • 27% worked in fishing or fish trading
  • 56% used engine boats (outboard- engine-powered wooden canoes) as their primary means of transportation

*42% of Waterbus users live below poverty line of less than $2/day based on world bank classification (2018)

Key Findings: Direct impact on consumers


of consumers found Waterbus safer than other methods of transport


of people interviewed had lost someone in a canoe/engine boat accident


Time saving on Mbita – Mfangano route through Waterbus service (72 minutes vs 138 minutes for alternative transport)


positive change in personal income after Waterbus services intervention


of consumers found Waterbus faster than alternative services


use Waterbus services to access better health care


agree that they are now able to seek better government services (including health care, education etc..) for themselves and household members due to Waterbus services

We investigated the key pathways through which Globology impacts on its customers’ lives


  • Waterbus users have higher levels of safety consciousness which, influences their choice of transportation
  • There is a lack of documentation of incident records/ fatalities to give an accurate view on true incident statistics



  • Consumers thought that travel times were significantly reduced with Waterbus routes
  • Quicker and more reliable transport services have ensured fish traders can move fish while they are still fresh to mainland markets



  • Consumers noted increased income and increased sources of income by using Waterbus services
  • Perception of higher fares charged by Waterbus even though the introduction of the Waterbus has driven down RWT fares overall due to the introduction of further competition (avg cost of trip was 235 KES + before and is 220 KES now )



  • Employment opportunities and income increased for small scale traders, vendors and some motor cycle taxis in operating at landing sites
  • Local boat operators have signalled a reduction in daily income and some have moved to alternative employment
  • There has been an increase in jobs for direct Waterbus staff at Ferry Yard and on vessel operations – although consumers have noted the male dominated workforce

I am business woman, selling clothes and floaters (plastic sandals). I started using Waterbus around two to three years back. With Waterbus now, my business has changed for the better because sometimes when I go to Kibuye market on Sunday in the morning hours, I can come back on the same day and manage to sell in the evening at Sena market which is also Sunday. I can now sell in many places and sell many pieces. This has led to the increment to my business income. This is because with Waterbus, you go to the market faster, you get to the market earlier as Waterbus does not delay and get more customers to sell to and that translates to more money. In addition to my income, Waterbus is good to my business because when the passengers disembark here at Yokia, a good number of them pass by my stall here and purchase my goods as they as they go….I also like Waterbus so much because its strict timeliness has made me improve on my time management skills, something which is good for any business.”

Lydia Akinyi in Yokia, Mfangano Island

Economic Growth

  • Reduction in spoilage of goods during transportation has led to increased income for traders
  • Workers are more efficient due to reduced travel delays in daily commutes
  • More visitors now come to the islands of Mageta and Mfangano for business and tourism because of easier access
  • According to local traders – Waterbus services have spurred economic activities around landing sites/ piers and has increased access to markets on the mainland thus increasing employment


Access to Key Services

  • Education and health professionals who would have previously been unwilling to travel to remote communities are now able to efficiently travel to these communities to support services
  • Pregnant mothers can now safely access maternity services during pregnancy and labour (gender impact)



  • Women traders are vending cooked food and other household items at landing sites targeting travellers and generating income to meet household needs
  • Improved water transport services have enhanced women’s mobility and enabled higher productivity in their businesses
  • Gender imbalance on Waterbus staffing is a concern for some customers

Implications for Globology (Waterbus Service)

  • Waterbus reached 1 million passengers served in mid-2018, however, its impact extends beyond its direct consumers and influences the broader communities they are part of.
  • The introduction of the Waterbus has driven down costs across water transportation by introducing competition – influencing canoe and boat operators to in turn reduce their charges which favours end users overall. Despite this fact, perceptions are currently that Waterbus fares are relatively high. (Relative to the quality of service Waterbus fares are relatively low but people will always complain about costs being too high.)
  • Safety, comfort and time savings are the most compelling reasons why customers prefer to use the Waterbus as opposed to alternative means – the company needs to further raise the profile of these key drivers.
  • Customers are requesting more services around the landing areas – like waiting bays for example to extend the comfort while waiting for the ferry. (Shaded waiting facilities are now being installed at shade-less major beaches.)
  • Customers recognise the gender imbalance on the Waterbus staffing – Globology needs to do more to recruit women or engage them in the business in other ways, for example, as brand ambassadors. (The company has now recruited 2 female trainee crew and has employed a female Chief Officer.)

Implications for the RWT Sector

  • By introducing a few RWT solutions to remote communities we can improve income generation for SME’s, improve trade connections, and improve access to health care and to education
  • Lack of data in the RWT sector should not be a deterrent for lack of action and investment – sustainable business models like Globology do exist and can create opportunities to realise impact at scale.
  • RWT can act as a form of last and first mile distribution service supporting the movement of both people and goods.
  • RWT can have a positive impact on income, gender equality and on economic growth through increased access to an affordable, reliable means of sustainable transportation.
  • RWT can act as a connector to other means of transport – for example connection to Boda Boda taxis for land based transport following water ride. In this way RWT solutions can work as part of a network of integrated transport solutions.