#212 Public transport data platforms beyond ticketing

OLD AND NEW– The confrontation between nature and industry is inevitable. Hard iron rusts when exposed to the elements, and the elements will take charge of the dilapidated. Consider how plants that grow through concrete cracks turn to trees punching through buildings. Technology, data and information with the complementary knowledge and policy could manage this process of change. If not, then the old will lay to waste, while the new struggles to catch a decent pace. Lagging policy excludes many of the beneficiaries waiting for services to fall like manna, when policy can provide fertile ground to nurture and raise sufficient and affordable supply. Who will make the decisions we need now in order to lead tomorrow?

The last decade has had a proliferation of various attempts to penetrate the minibus taxi’s electronic ticketing environment, but I think it is more important to look at the public transport data spectrum in SA. This process is still within the evolution of the paratransit value chain outlined a few years ago. After penning a note on digital identities for Fin24, it might be more appropriate to bring more context in the data-side of things.

Minibus taxi trip planning and service administration

My initial introduction to the digital taxi environment was through TaxiMap.co.za, this is a database of a number of local and long-distance taxi route prices and route information. The 2016 FairPay model, focused revolved around ‘one province, one ticket’ and would be a point of entry for a much larger scale digitisation and database building effort for minibus taxis.  There are firms like AftaRobot, which aims to provide a front-end and back-end solution for the minibus taxi industry’s operations and service offerings. While payments could be embedded in the application, their offering provides much more than a ticketing solution. Then one could observe the more telematic approaches for managing fleet. QuickLoc8, designed to establish trust and transparency between the owner and the driver, enables the owner to monitor vehicle dynamics, location and practices through the application. The most recent entrant is the ‘mitaxiapp’, backed by the national representation of the taxi industry, South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO), the platform appears to provide trip planning support for commuters. While policy continues to lag behind the myriad of potential issues, it is rather evident that the digitisation of the minibus taxi industry is becoming more inevitable. 

Travel planning and network data

Scheduled and unscheduled transport should be as digital as ever before, but it is not. However, very few entities have developed or provided a solution for the public transport data gap. WhereIsMyTransport, started as bus-schedule database, then turned to an ‘informal’ transport mapping and now transport data project management company with journey capabilities. GoMetroPro is on the other end of the spectrum, as a dynamic transport data collection company with various information, modelling and simulation related capabilities that can be plugged in to transport projects and analytics (new website coming up). The company has also expanded to provide shuttle services through flx. Uniquely placed, MovingGauteng offers a crowd sourced approach to transport network development, real-time travel information, and network structures at scale. I was fortunate enough to talk with one of the co-founders, Neville, and he expands on MovingGauteng in quite some detail in the podcast. All the above applications have had an influence on the scheduled transport market from a trip planning perspective, but MovingGauteng is the only one that solely focuses on the vast rail and bus network at a provincial scale through crowd-sourcing. 

Will policy lag behind again #questionmark

I’ve selfishly asked if transport policy lags behind important developments when it was playing catch-up with ride-hailing, and it still mis-specified the market (even after consultations). This was preceded by a note in 2016 where I asked if ride-hailing was a policy opportunity or a competitive threat. This lag could be because the policy premise is reactive, and not proactive to market developments. Transport ticketing is one side of the coin, which is harder to execute—but integrated stablecoins could make this easier. Meanwhile, transport data platforms may have much richer access to data, and privacy issues could be crucial. While responding to the pandemic does require reforms in practice associated with less contact, and easy transactions, long-term policy decisions remain. Who will make them?

Thank you for reading.

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