Whether you’re a pedestrian using public transport or a driver with your own car, you probably know that taxis on South African roads are often unreliable, a nightmare to deal with and even dangerous.

Two young guys from KwaZulu-Natal have come up with a tech solution that hopes to address these issues and more with a simple USSD service called the Wiser Driver Commuter Owner Campaign that’s designed to bridge the communication gap between commuters, drivers, owners and taxi associations.

Thirty-two-year old Brian Mbambo and twenty eight-year-old Zethembiso Msomi are entrepreneurs from Durban running a non-profit organisation (NPO) called Give Life Projects.  that seeks to innovate the way South African communities work. The pair also run a software development shop called Fish Information.

Wiser Driver came about after Mbambo and Msomi developed a mobile competition system for the 15th annual Durban Business Fair back in 2013.

“For that project, we created a web application that was used to register and automatically enter into the competition the visitors and exhibitors that attended/participated in the Business Fair,” explains Msomi.

“After that success, Give Life Projects championed a tavern campaign in 2013 in partnership with KZN Liquor Authority and Brandhouse. In this campaign, tavern owners were given: first aid training, fire awareness training, first aid kits and fire extinguishers. As a means of collecting data on the success and progress of the initiative, we asked tavern owners to give us feedback via USSD with the names of people they have assisted in their taverns.”

This campaign led to the creation of the Wiser Driver Commuter Owner Campaign in 2014.

The service allows participating taxi associations and taxi owners to monitor the activity of their fleet as well as manage the vehicles already registered on the system.

It also offers commuters educational information about the importance of wearing seatbelts while travelling in taxis and can use the service to report service incidents of bad behaviour or excellent service from drivers.

Should a user report any issues, the problem is immediately communicated to the owner of the taxi in question as well as the taxi association they operate under.  The disciplinary measures that are applied thereafter are subject to the internal disciplinary policies of the taxi owner’s operation, as well as the taxi association involved.

“We wanted to introduce an independent system of accountability for taxi drivers and a degree of transparency by facilitating communication between commuters and taxi owners,” adds Msomi.

Wiser Driver is currently available in English and isiZulu to commuters in Durban and surrounding areas. Standard USSD charges apply for usage.

So far, the campaign has partnered with 16 taxi associations from the area.

Working together with stakeholders in the taxi industry is no easy feat, as some taxi associations and owners are renowned for being uncooperative, to say the least. Shootouts between associations arguing over routes are still a sadly common occurrence all over the country, as are tales of corruption, police bribes and drivers operating without licences or insurance. But according to Msomi and Mbambo, the initiative has been well received by all stakeholders, with the best response coming from owners.

“Aside from taxi owners, drivers and associations, other players that work with this sector have also given us a great reception as well. The likes of these are our partners namely: CMH DatCenter Durban, Miami Towlines and Jacks Tyres,” Msomi says.

An example of one the Wiser Driver’s success stories is an incident that occurred shortly after the campaign launched.

“We received our first negative report from a commuter about a particular driver who was speeding excessively. The owner of that taxi was very quick in addressing the issue with his driver,” Msomi explains.

“After observing the data that we had collected from the system, we then held a series of feedback sessions with our stake holders. As unconventional as this seems, the thinking behind it is to decrease the chances of that particular taxi being involved or causing an accident. By chance, they said the taxi was also in need of a good set of tyres .Together with our partners Jacks Tyres and CMH DatCenter Durban, we announced a preemptive measure action plan where we gave a brand new set of tyres to the taxi”

“To the rest of the participating taxi owners we gave out wheel alignment vouchers, courtesy of Jacks Tyres and CMH DatCenter Durban.”

As an NPO, Mbambo and Msomi rely on donor funding at the moment and although they have approached the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport for backing, they haven’t been successful as yet.

“Hopefully in the near future they will partner and fund our initiative but for now that does not discourage us of trying to save lives on our roads,” Mbambo says.

At the moment, the Wiser Driver team is working on plans for further provincial and national expansion and are in the process of working with other taxi associations and benefactors who are eager to drive the campaign.