South African app seeks to ease commuter stress

The Khwela app is a platform designed to simplify travel by helping commuters find their way through South Africa’s hectic public taxi transport system

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA (RECENT) (REUTERS – Every day, millions of South Africans rely on minibuses to get to work, run their errands and generally get around.

Known locally as “taxis”, the minibuses are the backbone of South Africa’s transport industry, driving a conservative estimate of about 3.7 billion US Dollars in revenue through the country’s economy every year.

But even seasoned commuters here struggle to master the specifics of which routes, bus stations, or prices to use in the largely unregulated sector.

Skhona Khumalo is a 28-year-old tech innovator and one of the drivers of an app that aims to help commuters navigate through the maze.

“This industry is a gem, it’s an actual jewel of South Africa and how do we increase participation and the first place we start is by making it a more pleasant experience. You know if you’re somewhere where you feel like there is no recourse, there’s no actual escalation case, you are very much discouraged from using it and you use it out of obligation. But upon introducing just easier ways of relating with it, we are showing South Africans this is a space for everyone. You know, it’s not one race, one demographic, it’s really for everyone and it’s the most efficient mode of transport there is in the country,” he said.

South Africa’s minibus taxi industry, scorned by other motorists for reckless driving moves over 15 million people every day servicing mostly lower income blacks since its creation in the 1970s.

Khwela has only been in the streets for five months, but its creators say thousands of users have downloaded the app and are embracing the features that differentiate it from other platforms.

“You can’t really compare it to Uber, you can’t compare it to Taxify because it’s servicing a different market and I think that’s what makes it so exciting, is that Khwela was able to identify a gap and to service a commuter that’s not being serviced currently. I think you know, we all want to save money, we don’t always have the liberty and luxury to travel by Uber or Taxify. So what Khwela is able to do, even though you can’t request a taxi directly from the app, you can save time,” said Anele Nzimande, PR officer for Khwela.

Time is an important resource for the minibus operators as well. They say they don’t have the luxury of dealing with an unending barrage of lost and confused commuters when they are responsible for transporting 65 percent of the country’s workforce every day.

“With this app, life is much easier because we get quite tired of the many people who are always asking for directions and which taxi to take. So Khwela is a good idea because a person will know where they are going and how to get there. Truly speaking, sometimes these people irritate us – not in a bad way but this app will really help us,” says Thamsanqa Daliwe, the manager at Johannesburg’s Bree taxi station.

Minibuses in South Africa, like those in many other capitals around the continent, are dogged by a reputation for insecurity, another social phenomenon the Khwela team is focused on decoding for passengers like Mogale Motau.

“More so it includes the chat function were commuters can communicate with one another and talk about their daily taxi activities and travel issues. More so as well, they have also included the panic button for safety issues. So, if I’m in trouble or if I see a taxi incident or accident happening, I can just click on the panic button and they will alert the relevant authorities and get help for me,” he said.

The Khwela team aren’t only chasing after new users, their revenue model is fueled by advertisements from third parties and sales of their customized data.

Associated Links

  • Uber
  • Commuting
  • Transport and the environment
  • Urban geography
  • Taxicab

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