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RIDE HAILING

New app for minibus taxis aims to end drivers’ struggle for off-peak customers

New app for minibus taxis aims to end drivers’ struggle for off-peak customers
Minibus taxi driver Renshaw Smith said that Loop’s clients had already given him more trips during the quiet part of the day. He says being paid directly into his bank account rather than having to keep cash is great for his safety. (Photo: Ashraf Hendricks)

The Loop service is being tested in Cape Town, but operators elsewhere are suspicious.

A new digital platform aims to better connect taxi drivers and commuters. Loop is a Cape Town-based tech start-up that lets users book a minibus taxi as a shuttle for once-off trips.

Jamie Wyngaard, Loop chief experience officer, explains that the shuttle is a door-to-door service. It is going through testing and is not accepting trips for only one person.

The shuttle service has been operational for about a month, says Wyngaard, and offers online booking and electronic payment methods. Trips are expected to cost about R2.50 per kilometre per person and the service is intended for all hours.

“Minibus taxi drivers must have a shuttle permit and, if they have a shuttle permit, they can register as a driver on our system,” he says.

Drivers are enjoying the shuttle service, says Wyngaard. Although taxis are usually full during “peak hours” — early mornings and late afternoons — at other times of the day drivers struggle to find customers.

“What we’re doing for the taxis is connecting them with commuters for them to have a full taxi of people during off times when they would usually struggle.”

Loop’s main service, not yet available to the public, will operate like a taxi e-hailing service, with commuters messaging current location and where they want to go. Commuters will then receive prompts about where to wait, how much the trip will cost, who the driver is and the registration of the taxi. However, this service will not be door to door and will operate along taxi routes.

“We’re working with this in a closed WhatsApp group for now. We haven’t launched the wallet service yet… So the public can’t utilise that service right now,” Wyngaard explains. It is expected to launch to the public early next year.

Loop is figuring out the best routes on which to pilot the service and currently has buy-in from about 15 drivers — mostly from the Cape Flats — with another 2,500 drivers lined up for the project roll-out.

Founder Imtiyaaz Riley says: “Loop is a platform for minibus taxi drivers and commuters to connect. Using geolocation technology, we match riders with drivers, we offer digital payments, and we operate on a review basis for both riders and drivers to increase accountability.”

Loop drivers are registered taxi drivers who are part of an association, must have valid licences and must have roadworthy vehicles manufactured in 2015 or later.

Western Cape officials believe the platform could help to curb illegal taxi operations, eNCA reports.

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Riley, who grew up in Manenberg on the Cape Flats, says he got the idea by observing the challenges of commuters and drivers of the Manenberg Taxi Association, of which his father is a member.

“I always wanted to be part of the taxi industry, and the most realistic [occupation] for me growing up was to become a taxi driver, but my dad never wanted me to be a taxi driver,” says Riley.

He recalls how each morning his father would call him from outside the family home to collect his bag of hard-earned cash. “He knew there was a possibility he could be robbed during the day.”

Loop aims to eliminate cash payments with a wallet system, to improve safety of both commuters and drivers.

Wyngaard says other companies have tried to bring cashless payment to the taxi industry, but failed because of bank charges and transaction delays. “A taxi driver can’t wait two days for his money. If he waits that long his business is over.”

Loop was designed with input from local taxi associations and commuters. Yusuf Kaunda, the chairperson of the Manenberg Taxi Association, says: “In today’s [world] it’s all about technology. This is going to solve a lot of problems with regard to handling cash on the road.”

Manenberg taxi driver and Loop shuttle driver Renshaw Smith says Loop is a “reliable and safer” minibus taxi service.

Loop is yet to approach other taxi associations, including the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco). It wants to ensure that any bugs in the system are ironed out before bringing them on board.

The start-up plans to test the service in Johannesburg in the next two weeks, and intends launching in Gauteng and Durban in 2023, according to Wyngaard.

Daily Maverick understands there is some uncertainty among taxi associations and drivers in Gauteng, who were not consulted about digitisation of the industry and who question how the service will work.

“The taxi industry was not consulted with this application and we have been working tirelessly coming up with a solution that would be the ideal way going forward for the taxi industry in this regard,” says National Taxi Alliance spokesperson Theo Malele.

Soweto taxi driver Mpendulo Mkhatshwa says the industry is already too competitive and bringing in new players could escalate conflict. “It’s a problem because we will fight. We all want money and we cannot keep allowing BEEE players when we are fighting for the little business there currently is,” says Mkhatshwa.

Asked if he thought the digital app would be a direct competitor, a colleague interjected: “What do you think? There have long been plans to slowly get rid of the taxi industry, but they failed. We will not allow this app to operate alongside us.” DM

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