Cape Town’s transport apps win global awards – can they help with our travel woes?

December 8, 2015
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Getting to work in Cape Town can be frustrating. With the highest traffic congestion in South Africa according to TomTom, and continuous Metrorail challenges from cable theft and vandalism, commuters can spend almost double their travel time during peak hours. Add to this the complexity that Cape Town’s population is growing 2 – 3% every year, and that public transport is managed by multiple stakeholders – MyCiti buses with 59 184 passengers daily by the City of Cape Town, Golden Arrow buses with 230 000 passengers daily by Golden Arrow, trains with 634 837* passengers daily by Metrorail, but with some lines impacted by Transnet, and mini taxis with 320 041* passengers daily managed by 102 Taxi Associations. Road traffic constitutes about 1.3* million passengers daily, but what is being done to address congestion and delays, and what technology can be used to help passengers? (* 2013 figures from Operating Licence Strategy, City of Cape Town, July 2013)

Cape Town start-ups have produced a few apps to help with public transport. GoMetro helps commuters plot their journey with 200 000 active users and 2 million monthly searches linking to busses, trains and mini taxis. GoMetro was awarded the Mobile Global Forum ‘Best Innovation in a Growth Market’ in 2014 and Frost & Sullivan recently awarded GoMetro the International Best Practices prize in ‘Transportation VAS’. GoMetro founder Justin Coetzee says that ‘the quality of our app will improve when MyCity and Metrorail open up their data for real time bus/train schedules’. Brett Herron of Transport for Cape Town says that they recently appointed a new contractor for an Advanced Public Transport Management System which will operate optimally by 2016, and Metrorail says that their data is managed nationally by PRASA, so we have yet to determine when this will be available.

Another locally developed transport solution is WhereIsMyTransport, which is a platform for smart cities focused on emerging economies. WhereIsMyTransport is a solution for municipalities and operators and connects informal transport which makes up over 70% of trips in Africa alone, while Findmyway is their app for commuters and is now in seven South African cities. With 25 people in Cape Town and London, the solution uses machine learning, Big Data, and cutting edge technology to connect every operator in a city, centralise the data for governments and agencies, and power real-time communication and analytics for more efficient, usable networks. WhereIsMyTransport was shortlisted for the prestigious Financial Times/IFC Transformational Technology Awards, and was recently awarded the Global Grand MobiPrize.

But apps require data, so what is the City doing to make free wifi available to commuters? As part of the City’s broadband roll-out programme, the City of Cape Town is rolling out public wifi which is already underway in taxi ranks. The City is also appointing a supplier to provide wifi on the MyCiti buses, but as Andre Stelzner, CIO of the City says, ‘providing wifi on buses is challenging and can be expensive, so it is best justified on routes with high occupancy.‘

For road users, the City of Cape Town recently committed R750 million to upgrade road infrastructure projects over the next five years with their initial focus being Kuils River, Kommetjie and Blaauwberg where travel is on average twice as long during the peak period compared with off-peak. This Congestion Management Programme will also address the worst congested areas in relation to freight movement, business traffic and public transport services.  But if Cape Town is 55th on the TomTom Traffic Index, spare a thought for Istanbul who are top of the list where commuters spend almost double the time of Capetonians getting home!

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