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Commuting by minibus taxi in South Africa is often akin to dicing with death. Aside from the bad driving one must regularly endure, commuters can often find themselves in the crossfire of taxi violence.
But a new app developed by a Joburg-based entrepreneur and backed by the SA National Taxi Council (Santaco), aims to put minibus commuters in the driving seat.
Using the free to download mitaxiapp, commuters will be able to gain such things as better information on taxi fares and routes and get 24-hour notice on planned taxi industry strikes to enable them to organise alternative transport. Most importantly, they will be able to report bad driving.
The app is the brainchild of entrepreneur Meshi Qwelane (pictured above), a former media buyer.
It’s expected to go live today and will be piloted on three routes, namely: Noord Taxi Rank to Randburg, Johannesburg to Pretoria and Pretoria Bloed Street Taxi Rank.
Meshi Qwelane’s mitaxiapp will help minibus taxi commuters gain better information on taxi fares and routes and allow them to report bad driving
Qwelane believes the app will help the 16 million South Africans who travel on minibus taxis every day, to make navigation simpler and smoother for both commuters and drivers — of which there are about 400 000 in South Africa.
‘Time to clean up sector’
It was while he was still working as a media buyer for Independent Newspapers that Qwelane says he was motivated to start the business when he read a report on the taxi industry by the Institute of Race Relations. The report covers commuters’ negative perceptions of the industry.
As such he believes it’s time to clean up the sector — and points to the growing concern by the public over the sector, including a commission of inquiry into taxi violence in Gauteng launched last year.
After reading the report he pitched his idea for the app to Santaco in March last year, asking for them to assist him in rolling it out.
The industry body initially rejected his offer, but agreed to work with him if offered a cut in the business. Santaco, he revealed, has a 25% stake in his startup.
Qwelane said a further 20% is held by a private investor from the Western Cape. While he would not disclose the investor’ name, he said the investor had committed to invest R750 000 in the business and had so far invested R350 000 of this amount in the business.
The idea is to generate a revenue off advertisers who can use the platform to reach the massive market of mini-bus taxi commuters. So far his team is made up of just three people, including himself.
He believes the proceeds that the industry nets from the app can help it to fund things such as its driver academy and Arrive Alive campaign.
Serving taxi industry will be a challenge
He admits that it won’t be easy.
Two previous attempts at an app for the sector, he notes, failed. But he believes his will be different, because the industry now has a stake in it.
In addition he has yet to secure any advertisers, and admits that in the first year of the app he’s unlikely to do so, as he spends time at taxi ranks with Santaco officials, getting drivers to buy into it. “I’m not looking at revenue (immediately), it is to fix the problem as fast as we can”.
He’s also vague on how reporting bad driving will work. Who will act? Will drivers be punished? Will he or Santaco work with law authorities to bring bad drivers to book? He’s unable to say, at least at present.
Another obvious challenge is that he may be knowingly putting his life in danger, in a sector known for its criminal elements. He laughs. Just recently someone asked him if he’d bought a bulletproof vest.
Yet he reckons that despite the perception by most, the industry’s reputation is being tarnished by a few bad apples.
Last week he rode up and down on taxis to get an idea of things and said in most of the cases drivers were dressed neatly and drove professionally. Like this he remains positive.
Says Qwelane: “It is extremely tricky, but if you do it properly it can work”. Most have given up. Will Qwelane’s app be any different?
Featured image: Mitaxi founder Meshi Qwelane (Supplied)