Cracks in travel meanings, technology and operators

In a recent piece on transport service technology, I argued that relationship building is crucial. The long term sustainability of a service industry that faces digitization requires a valuable shift from transaction to meaning. Considering that taxi drivers sometimes serve as social mediators, navigators in a new or old, yet unfamiliar space and a tactile connection with local living. At the same time, they are blasted with inferiority and superiority complexes toward industry and customers, respectively. The advent of transport service applications, or commercial transport application (CTAs) companies bring a new dynamic to both consumers and producers of access and mobility industries. A deeper line of questioning is required to unpack the fabric of this dynamic as companies seem to enter into this space without the appropriate “ears on the ground”.

Consumer oriented market research tactics are applicable where the market is pushed by industry. However, industries such as transport are largely pulled by consumer preferences over time; subject to producer capacity to deliver. It may make sense for such companies with innovative technologies to enter consumer markets directly with the aim of serving consumers. A broader challenge is the producer market responsiveness to such entry with respect to readiness and sequencing. The practical role of public institutions facing a digitization process that leans toward smart city and embedded responsibilities need vivid narratives.

Each stakeholder brings various avenues of engagement across a variety of sectors. Incumbent operators are spatial and political custodians for the traveling community. Municipal systems and positions outline pathways through which entities navigate their organizational philosophies to realize some degree of return within legal boundaries. Legality is part of all institutional systems: paratransit organizations have relationship oriented political dynamics of power, meaning and value. While for consumers their legal boundaries seem more vague and relate particularly to how they value convenience at lower costs over statutory security.

Penetrating an operator market with an array of inherent fabrics of dialogue and relation without appropriate engagement seems to be somewhat of an infringement. While adding value to consumers may serve as a defensive front line against operator responses to a solution to their under developed services; it seems unreasonable to discount the lack of engagement and meaning building.

CTA companies may be expanding the scope of transportation services, but at what institutional cost without an appropriate framework for market entry? In Africa, the impact of such companies seems multidimensional. Some provide datasets for local routes and appropriate transport planning. Others offer effective for hire convenience. Some serve as tools to develop transportation mapping solutions for the community and practitioners. And emerging ones offer a broader basket of solutions for the traveling public at a transactional level.

Once these services begin to scale by a factor of two or three, malicious solutions may also emerge from the vacuum. Some emerge on the technical spectrum ranging from dummy apps to hacks across platforms. Others have already started where operators offer cellphone based booking and they are not registered by the local authority to provide such services. Put more bluntly, each of these have labour market implications for the transport industry, with longer term implications for the advent of automation and mass transit solutions on the table.

There is no single, clear and outspoken solution to each of these issues as tech companies wish to focus on their tech although it impacts more than just consumer markets. An obvious crack is in both the institutional infrastructure that exists for these services, their accountability and impact on other social systems. In the case of South Africa, CTAs have inspired constructive and violent fragmentation in the transport service industry. With a long term view, the key point of departure is an exemplar treatment of the infringement of transport policy requirements and existing transport association systems of relation and power.

Innovation is a system wide activity with technological, institutional and human implications.

The traveling public seem to be amnesic about the meaning bestowed upon vehicles plying through tough traffic and hefty work hours for low pay. Historically operators provided a community service which expanded its footprint after the deregulation of road transport industries. CTAs are not only going to impact consumer markets in terms of passenger travel, freight movement and consignment regulations are necessary. However, the blanketed tactics focused on ensuring tech-companies stick to their technology space is not innovative behavior.

Innovation is a system wide activity with technological, institutional and human implications. Without the appropriate principles to guide such disruptive entities, policy positions will be treated as vague, multidimensional statements to justify inconsiderate firm behavior. The welfare implications are already evident: consumers are benefiting from a skew market because the real cost is in the operator labour market and institutions systems. Additional volatility in transport service industries that have a history of being disregarded and underdeveloped is certainly not a good idea. I believe that the next generation of new entrants should consider more robust engagement streams to strengthen their long term viability.

Thank you for reading.


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