One of the highlights of the My World of Tomorrow exhibition – which is on in Sandton Convention Centre until Saturday – is Locomute, a relatively unknown start-up that’s bringing something genuinely brilliant to South Africa.
Locomute is a car sharing network which launched in Johannesburg five months ago and Cape Town a little later on, and has been so successful that its founder and CEO Tumi Marope says that he’s planning to begin operations in Durban by the end of the year too.
Just like international car sharing networks like Zipcar and Autolib’, the principle behind Locomute is simple. Register with the service via its website, then when you need a car just open the smartphone app which will tell you where there’s one you can drive parked nearby via an interactive map.
All you have to do is walk to the car, unlock it using the app and then punch in a one-time PIN to release the keys, which are handily hidden in the glove box. Drive the car to your destination, lock the keys away and walk off, you’re done.
Unlike international apps that offer similar services, there’s no monthly subscription fee and you can leave the car anywhere you like when you log out.
Marope says that if the car is parked somewhere it’s unlikely to get used again, a driver will come and move it back to one of the base stations dotted around the city. In a uniquely South African spin which takes into account the lack of public parking in residential areas, you can also summon a spare Locomute car to be delivered to your home.
Charging is by the minute at R1.80 every 60 seconds for the first 20kms, then priced by a mixture of time used and distance travelled. It’s a complex equation, but basically means you could drive from Fourways – say – to ORT airport for less than R40, depending on traffic. That beats parking at the airport or any form of public transport – including, we reckon, Uber.
Pricing is designed to make Locomute attractive for short trips and offer an alternative to car ownership if you live in a city.
And unlike traditional car hire firms, there’s no need to fill the car up with gas before you leave it – that’s included in the price.
According to Marope, the main concern at launch would be whether or not the cars would be stolen or vandalised when left waiting for customers, but he says that hasn’t happened to any of its fleet so far.
“Even if one did get broken into,” Marope says, “It can’t be driven away. We can disable the car remotely and you can’t start it without the online authentication from the app.”
This article was updated on 2nd December to indicate that Locomute launched in Cape Town after Johannesburg.