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How will these startups help shape the future of South African transport?

Think what the future of transport will look like in South Africa in a few decades time. Okay, there probably won’t be flying cars or Elon Musk-ish hyperloops. It’s more likely going to be along the lines of peer-to-peer data sharing or having access to all your travel information in the palm of your hand. There are a number of trending startups that could potentially give us an indication of what South Africa’s public transport might look like in the future.

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Other than using private transport for long distance commuting in South Africa, there’s the cheaper, popular option of using Metrorail which is less safe, more unreliable and heavily outdated. In order to better this service, GoMetro is an app that provides train timetables, schedule changes, service updates and other news to commuters while also posting real-time, up to the minute train schedules and associated platform changes. You’ll literally get more information from this app than what you’ll get from Metrorail staff themselves.

It’s also focusing on giving the passenger overall better entertainment as it partnered with online music distributor iROKING last year to bring free music to the masses.

According to research done by GoMetro, 92% of regional rail commuters have mobile phones and can benefit from GoMetro. The service is available as a mobi site as well as a Mxit application and is extremely popular. The startup has also been recently chosen to be part of DEMO Africa 2013.

Losing track of your bus driver? WhereIsMyTransport has been around for some time now and is described as being an interactive system (via SMS or web-based) for commuters and transport operators in the Cape that provides feedback on where and when exactly the next bus is going to come along. It’s said to give operators a toolkit to help manage their fleets, assign routes, create schedules, and monitor their drivers.

Any informational system that gives real-time data as well as feedback to customers and operators should be a welcome gift to South African commuters, an estimated 10-million of whom use public transport. South African developer Lebogang Nkoane has created the public transport app which is available online via any mobile phone. The app, which launched last month, provides routing in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town city centres including Gautrain, ReaVaya and MyCiti routes as well.

The overall taxi industry carries about 60% of South Africa’s commuters while 65% of trips in urban areas are less than four kilometres. There are a few taxi-oriented startups trying to get a share of this pie recently.

Similar to US-based counterparts, Zapacab is a web service that lets you hail a taxi based on your location instead of going through the traditional time-consuming radio dispatch service.

The Cape Town-based startup is funded by 88mph and aims to be South Africa’s Uber or Hailo. In order to boost the local taxi industry, Zapacab provides taxi drivers with a basic but capable smartphone. With the recent entry of Uber into South Africa’s market, it’s going to be interesting how Zapacab will adapt to this competition.

On the other side of things, the popular luxury private car company Uber has recently launched its services in South Africa.

As Michelle Atagana pointed out recently, there is a growing middle class who will become more eager to spend disposable income so Uber is definitely putting its money in a market where it’s expecting to see growth. Uber has even introduced options that counter those with a mix of price points including UberX (low-cost Ubers), UberTaxi (same principle as a cab without having to hail it), UberBlack (black sedans), UberSUV (roomier cars) and UberLux (luxury cars).

Then there’s Mellowcabs from Franschhoek, Cape Town that relies less on information technology and more on an actual alternative to transport. The other startups provide a service via information sharing, this one’s a notable exception. The company introduces an eco-friendly form of micro-transport with its pedal-electric hybrid pedicabs. The company is experimenting with interesting forms of monetization, for example offering advertising space on the actual pedicabs. It’s hoping to eventually offer its services free of charge with the exterior and interior of the vehicle being the billboard generating cash on the go.

Slowly but surely there is a digital market growing in South Africa. While there’s a growing middle class, at the same time more and more people are starting to use smartphones. We can all agree that South Africa’s transport system needs some help. If it’s not general safety concerns, many of the services are outdated and very expensive for the majority of the people. What role do you think these startups could play in the future of your commute?

Image via Wikipedia Commons

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