SA app developer eyes Africa’s transport industry

Source: Victor Dlamini
Litha Soyizwapi

Silicon Cape, the area between Cape Town and Stellenbosch, has established itself as South Africa’s innovation hotbed, thanks to it conceiving successful tech companies like Mark Shuttleworth’s Thawte, mobile social network Mxit, mobile financial services provider Fundamo, and cloud computing leader, Amazon Web Services.

But in Johannesburg, 1400 kilometres from Silicon Cape, Litha Soyizwapi, the creator of Gautrain-tracking app Gaurider, has shown that South Africans from all corners of the country have the capability to participate in tech innovation rather than leave this responsibility solely to the Silicon Cape, an attempt at cloning the US’s legendary Silicon Valley that has produced tech behemoths such as Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook and many more.

Gaurider, which works on Apple devices like iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, allows users of the Gautrain and its bus service to track times of the next available train or bus on their Apple devices, helping thousands of commuters and travellers navigate the 80-kilometre rapid-transit-railway system which links OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Gaurider has been in the Top charts of the Travel category of the South African Apple store since its release in March this year. The app has been well received by Gautrain commuters, the local and international media.

“Gaurider is currently a beautiful time displayer, but overtime it will evolve into a travel companion that connects Gautrain users to lifestyle products and services along the Gautrain route,” says Soyizwapi, who is a trained graphic designer, but taught himself IOS programming.

It took Soyizwapi 18 months to develop the app which has more than 40 000 layers of coding lines, making it a complex and sophisticated piece of computing software.

“Guarider currently operates on Apple devices, but we are working to democratise the app in the marketplace by introducing it to other mobile operating systems like Android and Microsoft phones,” he says.

Gaurider creator eyes rest of public transportation

But Soyizwapi is not resting on his laurels and has firmly set his sights on the rest of South Africa’s public transport market, where the country’s major cities have launched advanced bus-rapid-transit (BRT) systems while the state-owned Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) will acquire 7 224 modern train coaches at a cost of R123 billion over 20 years to replace its old passenger coaches.

In 2011, Prasa, the operator of urban commuter service Metrorail and long-distance service Shosholoza Meyl, had a volume of about 2.2 million passenger daily trips, but this is expected to rise after the introduction of the new coaches as higher and middle income commuters opt to use Prasa’s services, which is mainly used by low-income commuters. Another industry that is attracting the attention of app developers is the mini-bus taxi industry, which moves about 15 million passengers daily and raking in revenues of roughly R16.5 billion a year.

Afta Robot was the first mobile app to attack the mini-bus taxi industry while apps like Snappcab and Zapacab are quickly establishing themselves as cab taxi hailing apps. Snappcab and Zapacab are competing with global taxi hailing giant Uber, which launched in South Africa in October last year.

In April this year, the Gauteng provincial government launched the GoGautrain app that assists commuters to plan their trips using different modes of public transport such as commuter train services (Metrorail and Gautrain), and bus services(Metrobus, Rea Vaya, Putco, Tshwane Bus and Northwest Star).

African transport sector provides rich pickings

Soyizwapi is also eyeing Africa’s public transport market, which is also in need of modern transport systems. Africa’s population has passed the 1-billion mark and the majority of its citizens are migrating from villages to cities in pursuit of economic opportunities and better living standards. This is putting pressure on African governments to provide public transport systems to ensure efficient functioning of their growing cities and economies. The continent’s infrastructure backlog is estimated to be $120 billion, most of which will be spent on rail, road, energy, telecommunications, ports, and public transportation infrastructure.

“Africa’s public transport sector offers huge opportunities and I am exploring opportunities across the continent. For instance, Angola and Namibia are introducing BRT systems while Ethiopia is introducing a light-rapid-train system, which runs above ground as opposed to Gautrain, which runs above and below ground.The Gaurider code base (intellectual property) can be adapted to those markets and enhance the user experience of passengers of those transport systems,” explains Soyizwapi.

In 2011, global management consulting firm Accenture published a report that predicted Africa’s population will double to 2 billion by 2050. By 2050, almost two-thirds of the African population will live in cities, compared with 40% in 2010. African transportation app developers could hit the jackpot over the next five years as the continent’s consumer spending is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2020 from $600 billion in 2010, buoyed by rising incomes that will enable African consumers to afford buying apps.


GauRider Intro Promo Video from Litha Soyizwapi on Vimeo.

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