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Air Taxi to enable SA fare payments via mobile airtime

Air Taxi to enable SA fare payments via mobile airtime

The minibus taxi is one of South Africa’s iconic symbols, the mode of transport for millions of the country’s commuters.

For many of these taxi commuters the daily trip to and from work is where the largest portion of their income is spent and thus by the end of the month a substantial percentage of these people find themselves short of cash and forced to cage lifts, hitchhike or simply walk.

But an innovative new concept called Air Taxi plans to give them a new option, all thanks to mobile airtime.

“I was living in Johannesburg and taking minibus taxis from the suburbs into the inner city each day to get to work and towards the end of the month I would see this situation where people in office clothes were taking to the highways and walking home. You would get dignified people coming to you asking for three or four Rand in order to pay for the taxi ride home,” explains Vivid Tjipura, inventor of Air Taxi.

Originally from Windhoek, Namibia this young entrepreneur started to think about a way to assist these commuters with what he calls ‘an Automotive Assistance (AA) for the common man’.

Tjipura estimates that upwards of 20 million South Africans will take minibus taxi’s each week and so his
thinking was around what each of those people have in common.

“First it was a mobile phone and from there I realised it was airtime,” says Tjipura.

Tjipura then spent some time refining the idea of how airtime could be used to pay taxi operators for transporting passengers.

“Air Taxi allows someone with a mobile phone who is stranded to get home. The whole idea is that in most inner city situations across South Africa’s major cities the fare is under ten rand which is a nice benchmark figure and airtime recharge amount. The idea with Air Taxi is that we approach driver owned taxis and say that we have this thing that can be used in perhaps off-peak times because half the time you have taxi’s going back not necessarily full and so we say ‘you transport our customers and we pay you with an extra value add-on’ whether its five rand or ten rand,” elaborates the enthusiastic innovator.

Tjipura recently entered the Air Taxi idea into an innovation competition called Startup Knight hosted by software development firm Byte Orbit. Participating in the concepts section of the competition Air Taxi was a popular winner and walked away with the one hundred thousand rand prize.

Chief operating officer or Byte Orbit Martin Ras explained why the judges were so taken with Tjipura’s idea.

“Although we received and saw an array of entries that were of high quality, not all of them were realistic to execute. An important factor that we considered was to see whether it holds a genuine commercial value. We also had to justify whether a real need exists for such a product and whether traction could be gained and finally the entrepreneur behind the concept was energetic and posses the right attitude for his product,” commented Ras.

Tjipura has a background in law and admits that as far as technology is concerned that he has little in the way of developing or coding skills and so looks at technology as an enabler and social development tool.

He developed the Air Taxi concept to work as simply as possible and be accessible to everyone.

Air Taxi will approach owner-operated vehicles and invite them to become part of the Air Taxi concept by putting a registered number on their specific taxi.

A potential passenger will then use that number to access an unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) menu and transfer the specific airtime amount to the driver’s mobile wallet.

Both the driver and commuter will receive a SMS to confirm a successful transaction.

“You also don’t need money as we will advance you airtime. You just need to register with Air Taxi. Going forward it’s inevitable that using airtime to pay will be a bit more and so it’s a call the commuter will have to make,” says Tjipura.

Tjipura envisages a system where a taxi driver will be able to use his airtime wallet to access specific rewards and benefits.

“Assume for example the cash taxi fare is R10 but we pay the operator R20 in airtime which means that would have been a thousand rand in normal currency is two thousand rand in airtime. The taxi can then go to a participating service station, plugs in that two thousand Rand worth of airtime and gets one thousand five hundred Rand worth of fuel which is five hundred more than he would have through regular currency. That partner petrol station then buys that airtime at discount and then sells that back to its customers making five hundred rand more than it paid.”

The complexities in dealing with mobile carriers, financial institutions and other businesses means that Tjipura does not believe Air Taxi can operate as stand-alone business but instead as a part of an add-on type offer presented by a large organisation.

“The complexity of the project was always of such a nature that we would have to pair up with a financial institution or a carrier and so the idea from the onset was to partner up with a firm that could use Air Taxi as an add-on to their services,” says Tjipura.

According to Tjipura SA’s taxi passengers may not have too long to wait for this exciting new product as a well-known financial institution has already shown interest in Air Taxi and preliminary discussion indicate that the product could be released in early 2014.

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