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Stop that taxi

Watch video. Could a mobile app make public transport a real alternative?

The founders of Sowetech, a mobile App development company, have a vision to make public transport, taxis particularly, more convenient and predictable for commuters through their mobile app – Aftarobot.

Aftarobot is an android mobile application that enables taxi commuters to broadcast their current location in order to find out when the next taxi will be on their route. The app also allows queue marshals (taxi rank officials who monitor the loads) to use the app to store driver registration, monitor how many vehicles are on the road and know when to release more taxis depending on demand.

The app comprises of the enterprise facing app for the queue marshals as well the consumer end -effectively the apps work together. Taxi commuters broadcast their location and queue marshals based on that information manage the taxi fleet.

Obakeng Matlhoko one of the co-founders of Sowertech, said that they recognised a gap in the public transport market and decided to exploit it. According to the South African Taxi Association, taxi commuters make up 65% of the 20 million daily public transport users.

Despite this dominance there are very few, if any, service interventions aimed at improving the industry, and this is where Aftarobot can begin optimising its position, said Matlhoko.

Watch Sowetech’s launch video:

Aftarobot is currently being piloted in Alexandra, in partnership with the Alexandra, Randburg, Midrand and Sandton Taxi Association (ARMSTA) – using the R55 and Old Pretoria routes. Matlhoko said that the pilot programme would be complete within the next five months and that data collected from the app would allow them to understand what works and what doesn’t.

Nathi Tshabalala, co-founder of Sowertech, said that the app could improve efficiency and save the taxi operators by automating a process that has traditionally paper based. Tshabalala added that taxi operators use registers to monitor which taxis are available and how many are on the road, this is inefficient and does not allow the for taxi operators to maximise operations because for information backlogs.

But not everyone has a smartphone

In 2012 BizCommunity reported that smartphone penetration had increased by 57% and that South African smartphone penetration stood at 32%. In recognising this shortfall Sowertech decided to initiate a USSD code that could service commuters with phones that do not have access to the internet. Users can dial *120*2747*2382#, accessible to all networks, in order to broadcast their location and find out when the next taxi will be available. This process works similar to sending a ‘Please call me. ‘

Sowertech’s vision is to see the app becoming a public transport mobile solution. However, it has not been easy for the company that was founded two years ago. Bureaucratic red tape such as gaining approval from the City of Johannesburg to mark out special routes has been difficultdue to the lack of regulation streamlining between the Department of Transport, the Joburg Roads Agency and the Joburg Property Company which owns the land on the routes.

Sowertech plans to take the app to other associations in the rest of Gauteng but is looking for funding opportunities to pursue this next development phase. Sowertech is currently funded by the Innovation Hub in Pretoria.


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