Africa’s Mobility Market Is About More Than Just Uber And Taxify

Written by Tom Jackson


Africa’s mobility market continues to evolve, with big players Uber and Taxify growing their influence, while other local and international players challenge the established firms.

Regular readers of tech news in Africa would not have missed the “ride-hailing wars” raging for the continent’s commuters.

Since Uber launched in South Africa in 2013, the taxi app battle has really warmed up. Uber has gone pan-African, seeing off a brief challenge from Rocket Internet-owned Easy Taxi in the process, but now faces stern challenges from the likes of Taxify and Little.

A host of more local startups mirroring the “Uber model” have also come and gone, failing to gain enough traction, but the African mobility market remains alive and well in other areas. While cloning Uber has never been a good idea, given the difficulties competing with a well-funded global powerhouse, other models have proven their worth in Africa.

Sharing rides

Uber has gone into ride-sharing in other parts of the world, but it is likely to be a while before it goes big on it in Africa. A handful of startups across the continent are bidding to fill that gap, and working on the basis that ride-sharing offers more locally-relevant and affordable solutions to commuters.

South Africa’s Jumpin Rides launched in August 2016, and since then has built a community of more than 11,000 users and seen over 6,000 rides requested. A P2P ride-sharing platform, it connects private car-owners with passengers going the same way, who contribute towards petrol costs.

Co-founder Pauline Du Paty says Jumpin Rides has a different model to services like Uber, and is more directly targeted at the market in which it operates.

“Unlike professional taxi drivers, there is no profit for carpool drivers. Our drivers fill their empty seats and split the cost of the fuel with their passengers. It is 10 times cheaper to carpool, as it’s all about sharing the cost,” she said.

This is relevant to South Africa as well, where travelling to work can take up to three hours per day in cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg, due to overcrowded and insufficient public transportation.

“That’s the reason why it became evident we needed to create a platform to connect private car-owners with people heading the same way,” Du Paty said.

“We encourage people to share a car as a community initiative to reduce pollution and congestion issues, rather than making it as an option to earn money.”

Drivers sit in queues of traffic on a highway in downtown Nairobi, Kenya during protest against Uber taxis. Photo - AP - Sayyid Azim
Drivers sit in queues of traffic on a highway in downtown Nairobi, Kenya during protest against Uber taxis. Photo – AP – Sayyid Azim

Nigerian startup Jekalo is taking a similar, driver-led approach, allowing drivers to set their own destinations at any time, as opposed to Uber which only allows a driver to do that  twice daily.

“We are focused on making sure costs are truly cheaper than using a personal car, and close to that of public transit with a similar experience to a private car,” co-founder Bolarinwa Motoni said.

This too has proven popular. Jekalo has been in beta testing and is about to launch its second version, with Motoni saying it had seen positive organic growth, and users returning to the platform.

“It is tailor-made to solve the unique challenges of public transportation in each city that we have launched,” he said.

“It helps urban mobility in different ways, but the significant one is the shared goal towards a sustainable urban transportation system that enhances the quality of life of its dwellers.”

Transport back-ends

Smart cities are very much in vogue, with transport and mobility presenting as key issues in many African cities. Uber itself is making a play in this space, with the launch of Uber Movement, which uses data collected on the company’s platform to help local authorities make informed decisions about how to adapt existing infrastructure and invest in future solutions.

Uber is not a trailblazer in this respect, however. One of the companies operating in this space is South Africa’s GoMetro, a specialist in the design and implementation of intelligent transport systems and smart mobility. GoMetro consists of two main products, namely flx and GoMetro Pro, which exist separately but are greatly complementary.

GoMetro Pro is a mobile app that produces actionable business intelligence on the operations of informal transit in African cities. This is done by providing a driver or assistant with an app that tracks the vehicle, counts its passengers and measures its efficiency against averages in the same city.

“This gives the owner a cheap and easy way to keep accurate business records that will allow for better business planning and decision-making, and provides owners with insights into how to expand their business, provides finance institutions with data for better lending practices, and city officials with data about supply and demand in their city regions. The data is used in transport planning documents as used by city and provincial authorities,” said GoMetro CEO Justin Coetzee.

Flx, meanwhile, was built to optimise the way people move everyday, by connecting all the transport offerings on one platform, which then manages routes better and facilitates communication between supply and demand. While in theory deployable anywhere, GoMetro is currently focused on improving the daily commutes of Cape Town corporate workers.

“For our friendly users, using flx services means leaving their cars at home, getting picked up by a shuttle at their house and working while they are on their way to the office, saving almost two hours of their time per day,” Coetzee said.

“Our rider and driver app enhance the communication and help managing commutes in advance. Users can decide to get picked up by flx, or just use their usual means of transportation.”

He said the impact is huge for both cities and users. “While one private vehicle is taken off the road every time we sign up a new flx user, they are saving so much time per week, they increase their efficiency at work and feel less tired. Taking this concept to a larger scale also leads to a significant decrease in the users’ commuting costs when compared to driving a private vehicle,” said Coetzee.

Tom Jackson is co-founder of Disrupt Africa, a news and research company focused on the African tech startup ecosystem.