File Photo: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA)

CAPE TOWN – In the midst of the dark cloud hanging over the transport sector in South Africa, with trains being burnt almost daily and petrol prices going up frequently, technological solutions are being developed. 

During this Transport Month (October) one must look at some of the developments that point to a brighter future for this sector. It’s important not to lose hope, but to think beyond current transport modes (trains, buses and minibus taxis) and see how technology and innovation can make a difference.

For a moment imagine what would happen if South Africans had access to a shuttle service similar to Uber, but for a group of people. Chances are this intervention would reduce transport congestion by half. This is exactly what a South African transport technology company is working towards to ease traffic congestion.

Flx, a transport tech company, is a new tech transport system designed for companies to transport their workers from home to work and work to home. The company was hatched out of another local transport tech app company that developed a train app, GoMetro. Flx is being tested by a number of corporates, such as Allan Gray.

Another interesting transport technology solution is the electrical cab developed by MellowCabs. 

The cabs are currently being considered as a feeder system to bus systems and Park and Ride programmes. They can also be adopted by cities as a means of movement within shorter distances in the city, which would reduce congestion and the costs associated with transport.

In Gauteng, there’s Shesha Tuks, which provides convenient and cost-effective short-distance transport solutions. Other solutions for the transport sector are still under development. In Namibia, a group of students led by Professor Pio Barone are developing an African electric car for use in cities.

All of the tech solutions mentioned are in beta operation (tested) and require wider adoption. An integration of all these solutions for local transport challenges could really make a difference. On August 12, 2013, Elon Musk released a white paper on the Hyperloop, his concept of high-speed ground transport. 

To accelerate the development of a functional prototype and to encourage student innovation, SpaceX, a company founded by  Musk, announced the Hyperloop Pod Competition in 2015 to design and build high-speed Hyperloop Pods. A hyperloop is a sealed tube or system of tubes through which a pod may travel free of air resistance or friction conveying people or objects at high speed while being very efficient.

For the competition, student teams from around the world came together for a Design Weekend in January 2016 to share their Pod designs. Top teams advanced to the build phase and spent 2016 turning their designs into functional Pods. These teams then competed in the first Hyperloop Pod Competition in January 2017, where they raced their Pods on SpaceX’s Hyperloop Test Track adjacent to its US headquarters. 

Two subsequent competitions were held in August 2017 and in July 2018. Based on the continued success of teams competing in the Hyperloop Competition, SpaceX is now in the process of moving forward with a fourth competition: the 2019 Hyperloop Pod Competition.

Some cities are in the process of adopting the Hyperloop as a mode of transport. There’s nothing stopping South African cities from bringing the Hyperloop to Africa.

Wesley Diphoko is the editor-in-chief of The Infonomist. He founded Kaya Labs, a platform that develop young tech leaders.

The views and expressions are not necessarily that of Independent Media.

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