How technology is upgrading traditional mobility services in Africa



  • Minibus taxis have been a fixture in many African cities for decades.
  • By applying modern email technology to private mass transportation, mobility solutions can be developed that reduce congestion and car use.

In the international arena, the buzzword ‘mobility’ conjures images of high-tech mass-rapid-transit systems in international cities, coupled with entrepreneurial technology-driven start-ups such as e-notification companies, micro-solutions such as e-scooters and bicycle sharing programs. connecting efficient high-speed train and air solutions that have been modernized to meet our contemporary transportation needs.

In South Africa, however, ‘mobility’ denotes the need for urban transport that is an integral part of our economic activity, an informal modality that is virtually without innovation, supported and supported by our often ominous taxi bus industry.

The minibus taxi is an often colorful 14-16-seat minivan, loved and hated by the 15 million passengers who use it every day as well as those who share the roads with them. These taxis operated illegally from 1977 until formally legalized in 1987, transporting passengers from remote areas dedicated by the apartheid government’s spatial planning regime to racially exclusive city centers and economic hubs. Road-promoting transport policies, lack of government funding and a lack of reinvestment in extensive rail infrastructure have allowed minibus taxis to overcome their weight by providing provincial commuters with a nimble solution to their transportation needs – in a country that accounts for 75% of the rail African continent, and where the track should therefore be untouchable. The resulting environment is one in which minibus taxis account for 25% of South Africa’s passenger traffic mix, placed between private car use (38%) and walking (21%), while rail represents only 4% of the market.

Transport usage by type in South Africa

Transport usage by type in South Africa

Image: Transaction Capital

Outside of South Africa, other countries on the continent rely on similar mobility systems. East Africa’s minibus taxi equivalent is the matatu, which may be even more colorful and whimsical than its southern counterpart, and occupies an even stronger position in the average East African’s transport mix. Where East Africa differs is the use of motorcycles, known as boda-bodas, to meet micro-mobility requirements. In South Africa, the taxi bus is again focusing on this segment.

By applying Africa’s unique transport system to international mobility trends, we see an interesting convergence. Global cities are targeting policy frameworks and public mandates to reduce emissions and congestion by reducing the number of vehicles on their roads, with goals such as the Mayor of London’s Transportation Strategy, which aims to make 80% of all London journeys by bicycle , walking or public transport by 2041. Cities are driving modality shift (people replacing their cars) through modal densification with the use of innovative technology-driven solutions.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick famously said his company’s service would help ease congestion in our cities. Wall Street Journal has pointed out that ride-hailing solutions have exacerbated congestion. While e-hailing may have added to congestion, it has also paved the way for entrepreneurial entities to innovate. By applying the e-hailing solution to systems designed to efficiently increase mobility, such as privatized mass transportation, you have an ideal currently sought by many world cities.

One such solution is ViaVan, a partnership between an American mobility-as-a-service (MAAS) company, Via, and Mercedes Benz Vans, which uses a proprietary algorithm to aggregate demand on certain routes, creating a densification is encouraged from passengers on a vaguely comparable journey to origin / destination to share a vehicle. They do this by taking into account the needs of the riders, creating a virtual bus stop or a pick-up point, and pooling their riders to realize efficiencies not yet seen in our large technology-powered mobility start-ups. This solution mimics Africa’s minibus taxi method, except that instead of disputed routes and taxi associations, algorithms and big data perform the aggregation.

SWVL – an Egypt-based start-up founded in 2017 and already operating in five countries – may be moving into this space. SWVL has managed to merge technology with Africa’s established mobility offerings and benefits from the efficiency gained. The efficiency is enjoyed on the supplier side, with better demand forecasting, market accessibility and certainty. The demand side enjoys scheduled rides, app-supported transactions and being able to book your seat. Bridging the gap between expensive on-demand rides and troublesome, unreliable public transportation, this solution has been widely accepted by everyday drivers and investors alike, raising more than $ 80 million in funding to date.

There are certainly challenges on Africa’s path to fully realizing the benefits of MAAS. Operator buy-in is essential as an efficient system relies on the coordination of participants and access to open-based data collected from the different transport mixes to efficiently pool demand between operators and sectors and ultimately deliver these services. integrate into the most efficient offering. This approach, coupled with a strong policy framework in which governments are no longer providers of public transport, but rather grant permits and licenses to the private sector to provide services, will enable competition to further increase rider satisfaction and modal shift. to enlarge.

In addition to the benefits of reduced congestion, increased emissions, improved access to economic hubs and ridership, this would encourage further innovation as the private sector builds a stronger skill base to develop different types of MAAS support systems – further increasing efficiency, enabling Africa can compete on the world stage.

The African taxi bus industry leaves a lot to be desired; But is the world of mobility taking a leaf out of our book? As public transport is the backbone of technology-driven mobility solutions, ride-sharing services have been found to work best in environments where public transport is widely available. Competences and efficiency displayed in the African environment are now applied in cities around the world, conversely, the space for innovation in our own nodes and connections is enormous. We need to change our perception that the minibus taxi is a competitive mode and prefer to let technology run with its competitive characteristics in mind, pushing the system up rather than a system in itself.


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