This review is more of a system wide thought related to how transport systems have been innovated prior or concomitantly to the emergence of Uber in SA. These are not all of the available solutions though.
There are three main transformations that deserve mention:
1) information technology integrated minibus services
2) hybrid public transport systems / networks
3) customer oriented performance contracts
Information Enhanced Minibus
At the onset researchers have been looking for ways to manage and improve minibus services specifically in order to advance the operator’s conception of their business model. Major efforts include the digital tickets that would enable travellers to board and disembark without using any cash. Koos van Zyl of SAHA told me once in 2012 that once the drivers started earning a fixed income they improved their driving — because that enroute pressure to hunt for passengers dissipated.
In a different application, Venter and Venkatesh presented a study measuring rural travel. They then estimate the effect of improving the unpredictably of taxis through a prebooking service on a potential traveller’s cellphone. The results? Nearly a 30% increase in minibus use in their case study.
One final example is the use of Google Maps and developer platforms to improve the availability of GIS based knowledge of minibus services and routes in an area. A South African application in Durban and Cape Town is presented on www.taximap.co.za. What is so exciting? The routes, ranks and prices are all there for the potential traveller. The sad part? It is not a nationally (continental) adopted approach to presenting minibus services! Furthermore, operators would appreciate public efforts to reflect them — not the public efforts to suppress them. I’m sure that there are many others.
The notion of rapid transport solutions in the African contexts is gaining massive following and government support. A major challenge is how BRT and incumbent operators (especially unscheduled services) may need to be integrated. Economically, is this transit mammoth an example of predatory behaviour in the travel economy — given public subsidies. Some suggest that integrating these services through hub and spoke networks is justified. Smaller transit services (i.e minibuses) serve as feeders to trunk routes operated by larger vehicles (BRT). The result is a system where each mode maximises it’s efficiency. Benefits are arguable — but the room for innovation is evident.
Customer Oriented Performance Based Contracts
Bus services are in transition: from ticket based to distance based contracts. Most are still stuck in negotiative contracts. Customer oriented services are attractive to customers and positions the services more competitively in the travel market. Incorporating this in performance contracts, with distance and patronage, intimates a comprehensive and multidimensional measure of transport service provision — and thus more complex subsidy structures. Mokonyama and Venter argue that this would shift the public transport economy, whilst Hensher also reveals that this allows operators to improve their services and perceived value without additional costs or at least greater benefits of costs are incurred. This requires data and monitoring mechanisms at a scale similar to and greater than those offered by Uber.
When technology changes in the market changes, the supply curve changes. And demand follows as new preferences emerge. Uber is but the tip of the iceberg. The African travel economy is in transition. Are our policies ready?