The South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) announced today that it will be providing free WiFi to commuters in taxis and around taxi ranks, effectively allowing passengers to surf the web for free.

While the project has been spearheaded by the taxi association, it is being implemented through a collaboration between Telkom, who will be providing the connections, and Wi-Taxi South Africa, who will be responsible for the infrastructure.

“We intend to install WiFi in all our taxis and taxi ranks to give the commuters who use them access to WiFi. I must emphasise that it will be for a limited time, but it will be continuous as you respond to interaction with the APN, you will be able to access more data,” SANTACO CEO Nkululeko Buthelezi told Radio 702’s Steven Grootes.

As far as we understand, commuters will be able to stay connected while hopping between different taxis on their route by connecting to each taxi’s WiFi router. While the connection time is limited per taxi, by connecting to a different taxi it will extend their connection.

Having taxis with free WiFi has raised the question of whether taxis with connectivity might charge an extra fee over and above the basic fare, but Buthelezi explained that it is simply a value-add included in the normal fee.

“No, that is why we are partnering with the likes of Telkom to see that we will be able to afford the service without charging more for our commuters – so this is our added-value for consumers. I also want to say for those in private cars, (in a taxi) they can sit and relax… and access WiFi and do other things while they are commuting. It’s part of our improvement of the taxi service as we go forward.”

Since the service is freely available, Buthelezi explained that it would be funded through an advertising model.

“There is a model around it, because we will be allowing our stakeholders and partners to advertise through this platform so that it pays for the service. I can assure you that it won’t cost the consumer extra. If you walk into a taxi rank and you have access to WiFi, they will be able to look for jobs and will be able to interact with their friends on a social basis. We believe it will contribute to the growth of the country in general, and it’s part of our contribution as the taxi industry to the development of the country,” he explained.

As for when the first WiFi connectivity will be implemented, Buthelezi said that given the size of South Africa’s taxi industry, it should take about two years for all taxis to be provided with connectivity.

“What we are doing in terms of our rollout, we have a number of phases. Phase one relates to around 500 taxis and targeting all the major taxi ranks in Gauteng, and then moving to other provinces. The taxi fleet is a strong 250 000-odd, so our intention is that we roll out in the next two to three years. But Telkom said that we can do about 5 000 rollouts per month, so in about two years we should cover all the taxis.”

It is expected that the first taxis will be outfitted with WiFi within the coming weeks.

Tapping into an ever-growing market, the free connectivity could produce a unique set of apps developed specifically for commuters and those at taxi ranks.

“Absolutely, and that is why even smaller entrepreneurs who are starting their IT businesses can start building for this. We have also had a number of people coming to us saying ‘this app can help commuters’. So there is definitely a huge opportunity for us, our stakeholders and everyone involved to interact with 50 million commuters on a daily basis.”

“It’s going to be a huge project and we are very excited to bring this to millions of South Africans,” he concluded.

[Image – Shutterstock]
Charlie started his professional life as a motoring journalist for a community newspaper in Mpumalanga, Charlie explored different journalistic angles since his entry into the fast-paced world of publishing in 2006. While fostering a passion for the arts, Charlie developed a love for technology – both which allowed him to serve as Entertainment and Technology Editor for an online publication. Charlie has since been heavily involved in consumer technology for various websites and publications. He thoroughly enjoys World War II films and cerebral documentaries; aviation; photography and indie music. Oh yes, and he also has a rather strange obsession with collecting coffee mugs from his travels.