START-UP: MELLOWCABS move with electric micro-cabs
How do we improve public transport in South Africa? While Government struggles to find ways to mend the country’s tenuous commuter system, one answer may be with a small handful of local entrepreneurs who are quietly making big plans (and considerable headway) for the future of how we get around. One of those key players is Neil du Preez, founder of Mellowcabs, a series of electric microcabs that offer free first and last mile transport for those on the move.
What exactly are Mellowcabs and how do they work?
Mellowcabs manufactures and operates new, supercool electric mini-cabs that provide on-demand and affordable taxi services in cities. These services can be provided, through our mobile app, call-centre or website. We have two income sources: passenger fares (we provide a more affordable option that traditional cabs) and advertising, which we display on and inside the vehicles. We’ll provide first- and last-mile transport in cities, connecting people with existing transport hubs, restaurants, hotels, schools, universities, conference centres and homes.
We’re a bit of a two-part start-up in that, on the one hand, we’re trying to push out a highly innovative, sustainable and intricate new piece of tech and on the other, we’re attempting to tackle social issues that have occurred within the transport system.
Where did that idea come from?
The transport sector is arguably one of the biggest in the world. Everyone, from First-World, high-income zones, to dirt poor cities need efficient transport. I’ve always been interested in public transport systems and what they mean for individuals and the economy in general. Growing up in South Africa we didn’t have access to certain public transport methods. Then, after living abroad for a few years, I started seeing transit systems in a new light and started working and developing ideas around micro transport. It’s been a lot of hard work. And the last hurdle, which is the implementation phase, is still in front of us.
Are you on the roads already?
We are in the final pre-production stages of a new generation of Mellowcabs, featuring a brand new shell design, drivetrain and a host of other technological fea-
tures, which will be revolutionary and a world first for micro- cabs. We expect the launch within the next two to three months. It’s going to be really affordable, between R15 and R20 per trip, depending where we operate.
How do you get people to adopt the idea of using your minicabs, particularly those in low-income areas?
Low-income areas are a no-go zone, as it’s controlled by the minibus-taxi mafia unfortunately.
We’re planning high-visibility PR campaigns that will create a lot of hype around us, and obviously by providing safe, efficient, affordable and quality transport… plus a whole lot of cool.
Are you planning to expand internationally, and how feasible is it to employ the Mellowcabs model overseas?
We’ve gone through extensive roadworthiness testing and the new vehicle will comply with United Nations roadworthiness standards, meaning that we can operate legally on just about any city road.
It’s a fact that 80% of all urban taxi trips are shorter than three miles [4.8km], which is an extremely inefficient use of fuel burning engines, but would be ideal for electric taxis. This makes Mellowcabs really relevant. We have a clear vision, which is to bring Mellowcabs to every major city in the world.
Who developed the technology?
Most of the technology has been developed in-house, or in conjunction with partners like design experts Ideso, with whom we collaborated in design of the vehicle.
There’s another wildly successful public transport start-up dominating the market both here and internationally (you know which one I’m talking about). How do
you plan to compete?
Mellowcabs has the entire package: we really are closing the loop on transport innovation by both manufacturing and operating the vehicles. Like Uber and others, we have our own app that has the same functionality, plus it has been customised for integration with our vehicles, and some nifty new features, such as language options, and various payment options. That being said, we’ve had productive discussions with Uber both in South Africa and abroad.
What’s next for Mellowcabs in 2015?
Wow, you’re going to see Mellowcabs all over South Africa – hopef ully they will create positive change.
Neil du Preez