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From third world countries battling with proper organisational issues with regards to locating routes, to travelers unable to locate transport when commuting in new cities, to congestion, traffic jams and lack of service delivery, public transportation issues are problems that occur on a global scale.
Two entrepreneurs however believe that for the first time their company is offering developing nations a chance at a true end-to-end intelligent transport system (ITS).
Transport IT infrastructure specialists, WhereIsMyTransport gives transport providers a platform on which to run all their daily operations such as routing, scheduling, reporting and monitoring which all form part of a package which provides commuters with mobile access to timetables and predication services. According to the company founders, the benefit for the consumer is simple: finding the fastest or cheapest way of getting to their destination.
The company’s solution is aiming to deliver a modern and fully-integrated transportation infrastructure, giving bus companies tracking and scheduling control over their buses, detailed reporting facilities and live monitoring and notification services. The services provided to the public are real time services, access to arrival/departure times through their mobile phones and IP cameras on the buses.
The idea, WhereIsMyShuttle, came into being as an honours thesis project when de Vries and King took up an Honours degree in information systems together. According to the duo, “the idea was triggered when Chris missed a test because his bus failed to arrive on time”.
They went on to win numerous awards, one of which was the Microsoft Imagine Cup innovation accelerator award. After featuring amongst three of the 220 000 contestants from 110 countries, they realised their potential for a startup business. On returning to South Africa, the two registered the company in September 2008. Located in Cape Town,
Transport operators as well as municipal transport governing authorities are the company’s main target. King and de Vries have bootstrapped the company, avoiding the need to bring in shareholders. They also received ZAR 650 000 from the South African Finland Knowledge Partnership on ICT (SAFIPA), boosting the ability of the two to get the business growing without the need to give away equity.
Though, not a completely new idea on the global scale, the company believes its innovation is a first for Africa. De Vries says the company is the first of its kind allowing commuters to find either the fastest or cheapest means of getting to their desired destination.
WhereIsMyTransport utilises all modes of public transport, creating real-time estimates as opposed to merely feeding from schedules gives sets the company apart according to the founders..
“This is a complex problem which we were told would be impossible to solve,” recalls de Vries as he reflects on the early days of the project. “However we have now proven the opposite to be true,” he adds.
The two founders add that the service was also developed from a usability standpoint, taking into account that South Africa has one of the world’s top five mobile penetration levels per capita. The system allows users the option of both structured SMS queries and mobile applications.
“In South Africa and across the rest of the continent, the public transport infrastructure is severely lacking. WhereIsMyTransport steps in to offer a complete solution, on for the operations of the provider, a tool for monitoring and governance in the hands of the transport authorities, and providing value added services to the commuters” says de Vries.
Though the company does not have a confirmed international strategy as yet, it does have competition, local players being amongst them: TMT, Digicore and Trapeze provide a similar service. De Vries says the company’s focus is primarily on South Africa for the time being “in order to get the first few clients successfully implemented, and to properly vet the software”.
The website WhereIsMyTransport has one of two goals by the end of the next five years. If it’s not already running the transport solution for an entire province it wants to have reached its acquisition stage.
The website is not particularly self-explanatory in stating the purpose for its existence for first time users. Evidently the most frustrating aspect is that it is a very slow site — it takes a long time to load.
The company as signed the University of Cape Town as a client and will be rolling out the service on campus in April of 2011.