Impact Hub Manila Fellowship

Sabay Tayo: Find Boatride Sharers by Text Messaging

Kenneth See
Kenneth See | Jul 24, 2016 | in Sustainable Energy Solutions

Transport in many small island communities in the Philippines is crippled due to the high cost of boat travel, averaging 1000 pesos per hour of travel, or roughly 5 DAYS' worth of income for a rural family living in small islands, the very people who need to travel by boat. With a crippled transport comes trade limitations, which in turn impact their livelihood. These communities tend to have subsistence economies because of this, and at that economic level, they are often neglected by utility companies (energy, telecommunications) as well, which make the locals even more economically disadvantaged. A vicious cycle ensues.


Some islands are lucky in that they have regular ferry services, while some are not. But even the ones with regular ferry services, they're often not regular enough, travelling only once a day or week. People who need to travel outside regular ferry service hours have to charter a boat. The trip is often inefficient not just because of the high price (fewer people to divide the fare), but also because the boats are often not maximising its carrying capacity, transporting fewer goods/people for the same amount of diesel fuel (lower throughput).


Ride sharing would solve this inefficiency, but currently there's no easy way to find travel companions. It's based on luck and proper timing, whether the travellers happen to be at the port at the same time and happen to be travelling to the same destination. It can even happen that two groups of people who could've easily shared one boat travelled on separate ones because they missed each other by a few minutes. Energy is wasted in the process.

Who faces this problem?

There are 311,000+ people living in small island municipalities in the Philippines, whose lives are affected because of inefficiencies described above. This figure does not include locals in adjacent communities on bigger islands who often are the main trading partners of these small communities and therefore need to travel to these places every so often. 

The pain is that there's no easy way to find ride sharers, so if they have to travel, they either have to wait for the regular ferry schedule, bite the bullet and pay the full amount for a chartered boat service, or just forget about travelling altogether. The effect is not very easy to measure however, as it is difficult to estimate how many business transactions are unclosed, how many family reunions unattended, how many schools, training sessions, or doctors unvisited, and how many tourism trips unmade, due to the high cost of chartered boat transport.

How does your idea address this problem?

The idea is to make the search for travel companions easier, using a technology that is ubiquitous and already known by the potential users of the system, namely SMS.

Travellers text their trip details to a special number, following a specified format. When the system detects some travellers have compatible itineraries (i.e. travelling from the same port, to the same destination, on the same day), they are all notified with each others' numbers, also by text message. They can then contact each other (by text or phone or in person) and arrange their ride share amongst themselves with their favourite boatman.

Note that Sabay Tayo links passengers with other passengers, not with the boatmen. It is still up to the passengers to find the boatmen who will take them to their destination.This part is not a problem since the boatmen are stationed at the ports anyway.

SMS is chosen as the technology because the telecommunications and energy infrastructure in the small islands tend to be basic. Internet access is patchy in many places, and electricity is available only a few hours in a day. Smartphones are not popular because their charges don't hold out for long, and they don't get to utilise the capabilities of the device anyway because of patchy Internet connection. Though not as sexy as apps with graphical user interfaces, SMS can still serve the purpose of passenger matching. It also has the added advantage of lower development cost, since there is no fancy GUI to consider in the process.

The service can grow to include other functionalities, such as a way for boatmen to register themselves with the service, and to query itineraries in the next X days, In essence, the system is actually a text-based Bulletin Board System (BBS) and can be used where BBSes are often used in the past, such as for posting Lost&Found, Buying and Selling goods and services, and other announcements, analogous to people tacking a piece of paper with a message to a cork board in the city hall.

What’s new and unique about your idea?

Ride-sharer matching services already exist in the market, but they are all Internet based, and some of them require smartphones as well. They all target land-based travel and are marketed to tech-savvy urban dwellers. Sabay Tayo is SMS-based and is currently the only one in the market with that capability.

How are you going to earn money?

The service will earn via the premium SMS model. For example, though it is free to register your trip with the system, you will be charged a certain amount beyond the usual SMS price if a match is found. The amount to charge is not yet determined. Previous survey showed that people are quite willing to pay for such a service, up to 25% of the savings they make from sharing their ride with others.

Do you already have customers?

None yet, as the MVP is not yet finished.

Who is in your team?

The team are composed of individuals with at least 10 years' experience in their respective fields.

  • Kenneth See - idea originator. 18 years Corporate IT experience (SAP consulting and administration), now working on an ecotourism business development project and on Sabay Tayo. Developed working prototype of Sabay Tayo service. Will be the one to travel to island communities and train locals on how to use the service. 
  • Cheryvil Hawrylow - 15 years in marketing and sales, experienced in living in challenging geographical regions, familiar with the plight of locals. Entrepreneurial experience in real estate and food industries. Will be in charge of communications, preparation of training plan, social media presence, promotions, and other marketing strategies. 
  • Jude Defensor - 10+ year career on tech/organizational communications & coordination, sustainable development & transport, focusing on cleantech startup outreach coordination. Will facilitate strategic partnerships and networks. 
  • We are in talks with two potential developers who can help with the MVP creation.

All team members are based in Metro Manila.

Have you already founded/incorporated your company?


What is the intended positive impact on the environment and/or society of your venture?

By providing a way for people to travel more efficiently by maximising the space in their boat trips, the following benefits are achieved:

  • for the people: lowered per capita transport cost
  • for the environment: lowered per capita carbon emissions from the trip, potentially lowered further by a second or third boat trip that did not have to happen because the riders shared one ride
  • for society: more goods/people are transported with the same amount of work, which can make the economy more efficient; better energy (fuel) efficiency is achieved with the higher throughput of the trip


How will the Fellowship Program enable you to achieve your ambitions?

There are many places that can benefit in having such a system in place, but they need to be visited in person, and the trip to these places will, ironically, entail a lot of expensive boat trips. The program can help us spread the word faster and allow us to target our different markets (locals of island communities, tourists, traders) better, as materials may need to be localised. International expansion is also within our sights. Indonesia could also benefit from this.

Are you living in the Philippines?


edited on 24th July 2016, 13:07 by Kenneth See
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