The apps changing South Africa's transport services
- 25 October 2013
- From the section Business
Getting around without your own car in South Africa can drive you crazy, pardon the pun.
But a new range of cab hailing applications for smartphones, which use GPS positioning to connect you to the closest cabs, is making it easier to move around.
Snappcab, Zapacab, Afta Robot and Go Metro are all examples of local mobile platforms to serve South Africa's diverse commuters.
Zapacab became South Africa's first cab hailing mobile platform, when it launched in August.
"People are using their phones in smarter and smarter ways," says Rupert Sully, founder of Zapacab.
He says the amount of Zapacab users from different demographics is "testimony to this wave that's growing in Africa at the moment, this upsurge of technology, particularly in mobile".
Snappcab launched shortly after. Its managing director Anton van Metzinger says safety is of paramount importance: "It's about efficiency. It's about safety."
Snappcab tells passengers the driver's name and also allows a commuter to know what their driver and the car look like.
The app also allows the commuter to contact the driver directly and plot the driver's headway on a map on their smartphone.
The entire trip is on record with Snappcab, providing an extra sense of security and preventing dodgy detours from taking place.
Zapacab's Mr Sully says that their drivers are preselected and have received some training, but there are challenges, as introducing the app is not just a "plug and play" process.
"They [the drivers] are very comfortable with the whole concept that these markets are becoming more tech-savvy, but just to teach them how to use smartphone interfaces that we place in their cars, is a unique challenge."
Teaching the drivers how to use the app is not the only challenge that the local app creators face.
They also face competition from global giants such as Uber, which launched in South Africa earlier this month.
Uber states that it's "everyone's private driver", it caters to upmarket commuters who want to be chauffeured in luxury cars such as the BMW 7 series and Mercedes Benz S550s and has a presence in around 50 cities worldwide.
However, the local firms feel that their apps are tailored for South Africans, and therefore they have an advantage.
Mr Sully says that Uber "is not necessarily custom-made for the needs here".
"It's not just about replicating things that work elsewhere, it's trying to find out what works here," he states.
But Uber's international launcher, Patrick Studener, responds that even though Uber is a global brand, it has localised its product to cater to the South African market and is doing very well in the country.
"We don't fly people in from San Francisco to run South Africa. We have South Africans working in South Africa," he says.
"We do tackle every problem as it comes locally, and we have local community managers, we have local operations managers who look after the local community and that's the model to making it work locally."
Uber also stresses that it was important to come to South Africa because Africa is a "great emerging market space".
'Crucial' for transport
While Snappcab and Zapacab cater to cab commuters, many South Africans actually travel by minibus taxi, bus and train.
The Innovation Hub has funded Snappcab and various other mobile platforms that aim to revolutionise the transportation space, like Go Metro for train users and Afta Robot for mini bus taxi commuters.
Gary Bannatyne, incubation business development manager at the Innovation Hub says that there's a huge push for ICT development in the transportation service sector because technology is the only way forward.
"Technology is crucial, mobile technology is very crucial in the transport space and it's a huge focus of ours to enable these guys who have the solutions in that space."
And the local firms who are making their name in that transport space have ambitions beyond South Africa's borders.
Both Zapacab and Snappcab have plans to expand further into Africa.
As Zapacab's Mr Sully puts it, their expansion ambitions "really show how technology can go beyond borders to influence the way our markets interact with each other".
"[That] really says a lot about how technology is playing out on this continent."