Getting a driving license (DL) in Kenya these days is like a walk in the park. After booking a driving test online and passing the test at one of the driving test centers across the country, the next step is to apply for a license online. In just a few days, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) will issue a Smart Driving License that can be collected from decentralized centers nationwide.
New drivers are excited to have the power to drive around with a secure plastic card that fits in a wallet, just like a bank card. The new license embraces international standards in driver licensing and identification. It is processed on the Transport Integrated Management System (TIMS), an interactive digital platform that NTSA launched in 2016.
The TIMS, funded under the World Bank-supported Eastern Africa Regional Transport, Trade and Development Facilitation Project, has simplified the application, processing, and issuance of driving licenses. Applicants can submit requests from their homes, offices, cyber cafes -- even mobile phones -- anywhere in Kenya.
The journey to this transformation has not been an easy one. Until five years ago, the driving license system was manual and involved lots of paperwork. Prospective drivers were frustrated by a long and cumbersome process that triggered opportunities for underhand deals.
It all started with booking a driving test at a designated traffic police station. In Nairobi, tests were centralized at three police stations: Ruaraka, Jogoo Road and Karen.
After passing a driving test conducted by the Kenya Police, the next step was to apply for a license at Kenya Revenue Authority's (KRA) Road Transport Department, which was initially housed at Nyayo House then moved to Times Tower in Nairobi's city center. KRA would issue an interim license as the process of acquiring the official red booklet DL commenced.
Getting the red booklet could take from six months to even a year, and that was with vigorous follow-up. The multi-page DL was renewed annually or for a period up to three years, and each renewal slip was glued to the inside of the booklet. The risk of losing or misplacing the slip was high.
The DL processing center was characteristic of a chaotic marketplace. A typical day was spent in long, winding lines, with tired-looking tellers processing manual applications and rowdy, frustrated clients -- some shouting to be heard. Often, the manual files submitted by applicants would go missing due to poor record management.
Digitizing the process ended the grief of DL holders. Now they carry only a card, which can easily be verified on the spot by traffic enforcement officers through the NTSA mobile application.
The Smart DL has contributed to better management and security of Kenya's transport system, which serves as the backbone of trade and investment for Kenya and the East African community.
Installed with a chip that holds the driver's information, the new license also supports the implementation of a demerit point system and can facilitate the payment of instant fines. The demerit point system is designed to weed out careless drivers and enhance road safety. NTSA estimates that 5 million registered drivers in Kenya will be hosted on its digital platform when the government retires the red booklet DL.
The government's investment in technology was timely, considering the disruption the COVID-19 pandemic has caused in the provision of services that rely on manual processing. It has enabled Kenyans to continue accessing services through virtual connections.
The rapid uptake of the Smart DL demonstrates how collaboration between the government and the World Bank is helping improve the quality of transport services. World Bank funding and technical assistance helped Kenya find solutions that have enhanced the contribution of the transport sector to Kenya's economic development.
The experience in Kenya has demonstrated how digitizing processes and making organizational changes can enhance government services, save money and improve citizens' lives. Digitized services enable the government to become more efficient and resilient in meeting its people's expectations, even with limited resources.