Hult Prize Awards $1 Million To App For Bus Issues in Africa

September 30, 2016 - 2 minutes read

This year’s Hult Prize has gone to a startup created by students from who originate in Africa, designed to solve a huge problem with African infrastructure: unpredictable bus schedules.

The app is the latest in a series of innovative startups from app developers tackling transportation issues among the working poor, including success stories like India’s RedBus.

What’s special about Magic Bus Ticketing (the new startup’s straightforward and accurate name) is both the youth of the developers (all college students) and the ubiquity of the problem they seek to fix. In a report from NPR, co-founder Wyclife Omondi reports that “I’ve lived this all my life. When you see the amount of time people spend in this matatus waiting. First of all – it’s undignified. You think people could have spent much more time doing other productive things.”

The situation is quite bad in some areas, with co-founders reporting that low-income residents of their home countries often lose as much as two hours of their day simply waiting around for a bus — which might not even come after all. The situation is equally dire for bus drivers in the area, who have no system for determining which stops will have enough passengers for them to justify expending gas for the long distances involved. When the average minimum wage hovers around $5/day, you can bet that saving a few pennies here an there makes a huge difference for people in the area.

It’s one of the biggest contradictions of the modern world that cell phones and even smartphones are so prevalent even among the poorest communities. Magic Bus essentially takes advantage of this by allowing riders to purchase tickets in advance via SMS, and in turn get notified when a driver will be arriving in their area.

The end result: improved quality of life for potentially hundreds of thousands of bus riders, and a remarkable $1 million in award money for the app developers behind it. Now that’s an example that San Francisco iOS app developers can look up too.

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