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TRANSPORT: New Technology Platform Set to Save South African Economy R1.4tr Lost in Transport Uncertainty


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A new transport data platform, from Cape Town born technology company WhereIsMyTransport, launches today following R1.165million seed funding in the first closing of a R2 million seed round, and is set to revolutionise the information infrastructure of transport systems in South Africa.

The platform, a transit API, is the first of its kind to address the challenges of unreliable, inefficient and expensive transport across the country. Launching in cities including Johannesburg, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, George, and East London, the company predicts that by reducing uncertainty related to transport arrival times alone, the new platform could save the South African economy up to R1.4 trillion ($104bn a year).

The company believes that the new API, which collates scheduled and real-time transit data from public and private transport operators in the cities, has the power to improve the journeys of millions of commuters, saving up to eight million days worth of time that is usually wasted waiting for public transport. There are projects using the platform already underway in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.

Research indicates 68% of commuters travel to work via private taxis, which commuters often describe as cramped, slow and dangerous. By revealing the number of public transport options available to passengers, WhereIsMyTransport also suggests it could help the South African Government address the R59.4 billion (approx $4billion), which, the company calculates, is the amount currently lost on traffic congestion each year.

Paul Vorster, CEO Intelligent Transport Society of South Africa: “As a country with both first and third world aspects, our transport challenges are at extreme ends of the scale. Many of the transport systems have been badly neglected in the past meaning public transport services are often unaffordable, unreliable and unsafe. Gathering information on these services can also be extremely time consuming.

Paul continues: “We need to empower commuters with more information so that they can plan their journeys on the go. A single system whereby information from all the different operators and modes of transport is collated at one single access point, as is being proposed by WhereIsMyTransport, could be the first step to truly transforming our public transport system.”

The platform works by integrating transit data from formal and informal transport providers - such as city buses, metro systems or privately owned buses and minibus taxis - through one single open platform. The platform will allow city officials and developers to create journey-planners, insight tools, website widgets and messaging systems to reduce the uncertainty associated with transportation in South Africa (such as unreliable and missed services, identifying and notifying travellers of significant delays); better understand city infrastructure needs (e.g. if a city district is particularly poorly serviced by existing transit options); and, reduce journey times (by providing better, real-time travel information and recommending more direct and faster routes).

The company hopes that this combination of analytics, communications and journey planning tools will reveal insights, opportunities and advantages to address the disparity between the transport options available for those on the highest and lowest incomes across the country.

Nokuthula ‘Mavis’ Sobityo, a cleaner in her 30s from Phillippi, Cape Town, is one of the commuters set to benefit from the platform launch. She takes the train to work every day but often experiences delays or sudden changes to the train’s direction which means she’s regularly left waiting on the platform for long periods of time. She lives in constant fear of being late, or worse getting injured because the disrupted services are so cramped.

Nokulthula says: “It is really hard waking up every day not knowing what struggles are ahead. I always have to go to the station each morning and see for myself which trains are running, as there’s never any accurate information on the train boards or the radio. Having service updates that I could trust would make a huge difference to my life - I wouldn’t have to worry about being late for work and could travel home to see my family much more easily.”

The company’s Seed funding has come from investors including Goodwell Investments, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s philanthropic investment fund Omidyar Network and Horizon Ventures. The funding round has now been re-opened with the launch of the platform.

At launch, alongside seven South African cities, the platform also contains the data for the new Dar es Salaam BRT system, and the Cairo Metro. Informal transit modes are being added to the platform, starting with the matatu system in Nairobi, Kenya, with this capability to be extended to other cities and agencies, in Africa and globally, over the coming months.

Devin de Vries, co-founder of WhereIsMyTransport, commented: “The platform that we are launching today is the first open platform for integrated transit data in the emerging world. It creates a foundation for cities to bring much needed access and information about mobility to millions of people which could, in turn, result in huge savings for governments and transport providers.”

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