South African Transport Start-Up Gometro Opens a UK Office and Gets New Contracts Using Its Flx Transport Data Platform

GoMetro has created a data software tool to analyze, plan and roll out transport routes. As public transport changes, it is in a key position to take advantage of these changes. Last year it opened a UK office to capture new contracts to build its portfolio of clients and plans to expand into other parts of Africa. Russell Southwood spoke to its CEO and founder Justin Coetzee about how what it is doing has changed.

Transport start-up GoMetro started life in 2014 in Cape Town and has raised R15 million to date. It started life offering an app to people using the public transport system in Cape Town. That app still exists and has 25,000 active users but GoMetro now has what it describes as a flexible mobility platform called flx to help create ways of moving people that respond to the routes they travel.

GoMetro has successfully worked in South Africa with a wide range of public transport operators and municipalities. This work has become the bedrock for the platform it has created:"We've also done a lot of work in the digitalization of minibuses and taxis. Profiling the economics of different routes and corridor densities. We profiled 550 taxi routes operating rank to rank for the City of Cape Town. Assessed the need for each of the routes. We generated 50,000 trips and captured 2 million passengers and published the results. We have a proven model for understanding the economics of transport and how it might be charged for"

"It's important to focus on the business case, not just what the rider is paying. We've done that in Cape Town, Rustenberg and Limpopo Province. We have a new project in north-west Bojanala. Operators are using our tools there to self-report what's happening".

Using the Flx platform, it has rolled out a shuttle service for investment company Allan Gray who are based on the Waterfront in Cape Town. Employees are picked up every day and returned in the afternoon. The bus is provided on a subscription basis, costing R400 per week per rider.

"We're working with large employers who have large transport schemes. It improves a business' productivity. It means they can also invest in Black-owned businesses and create a circular economy".

The mantra that he keeps repeating is that we can't build our way out of congestion. Every new lane simply adds more cars. To get people out of their cars, we need to move from the idea of transport to mobility. In essence, often the transport needs to be smaller and more flexible to accommodate how people want to move.

To expand beyond South Africa, it wants to go both into Africa and out into Europe and beyond. However, Africa is a much tougher, more long-term play:"We spent time developing a go-to-market plan in Ghana looking at where the opportunities and partners were, how the economy consumes transport and we found great people and great start-ups. Government and the companies were interested. All the pieces were there but no-one was willing to go first. There is no anchor in mobility in Africa. We need to find a way to fund developments over the longer term".

"We see places that have made changes like Tanzania with its Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system with a fleet of 140 buses using dedicated bus lanes in Dar es Salaam. There's also a BRT system in Ghana and they are planning improvements in their rail system. These are all positive developments".

So in the shorter term, it decided to open an office in the UK:" We wanted to establish links into the UK market and look at the UK as a point of entry into Europe, North America and India. We're focused on UK transport operators. There are more than 100 bus operators, 18 train concessions and 260 community transport services

Outside London, these transport operators are under a series of strains, including shrinking budgets. There is a shift to using smaller buses and fixed routes will change form".

It is doing a trial service in Milton Keynes with London North Western railway. Commuters can get a bus to the station and home again at the end of the day. It is also working with a staff transport provider for 450 people in the Cambridge area:"We're enabling the company to recoup losses by the staff contributing."

"We provide the tech and partner with transport operators. All this is done using our new platform called Flx (with a new company, providing flexible mobility that can take a 7-seater van anywhere".

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