The 2010 Soccer World Cup has accelerated South Africa’s need to improve its public transport system which has led a team of students from the University of Cape Town to design a computer system to help change the lives of commuters.

Every year the Department of Information Systems (IS) at the University of Cape Town hosts an expo to showcase computer applications developed by senior students and also give angel investors and venture capitalists the chance to discover innovative new entrepreneurs.
This year’s expo, on 29 October, will showcase a range of dynamic new systems designed to address business problems.
Head of IS, Professor Jean-Paul van Belle, says: “The expo showcases Cape talent and potential as it gives the industry an opportunity to harvest ideas and meet graduates who are at the cutting edge of addressing real-world business problems.”
One of the most impressive projects on show is the Starfish system, a transport payment system similar in concept to the Oyster travel card used to access trains and buses in London as well as the Octopus system used in Hong Kong.
The Starfish concept is new for South Africa and has the potential to change the lives of commuters by reducing the time spent in queues, as well as making the public transport system safer and more efficient.
According to the team’s lead programmer, Amber Osborn: “The South African public transport system is unreliable and inefficient. South African transport payment systems are unstructured resulting in potential for corruption.
"In addition, trains and buses often require exact change to be paid, which leads to frustration to commuters. Carrying cash or anonymous tickets may incentivise crime. The 2010 Soccer World Cup has instigated and accelerated South Africa’s need to improve on the current public transport systems, particularly in large cities.”
Although it is unlikely that the Starfish system will be operational before the 2010 World Cup, its potential to change the lives of local commuters could be of lasting benefit.
The Starfish system is a public transport ticketing and revenue system which makes use of cards which are loaded upfront with cash and can be touched with Near Field Communication (NFC) at a turnstile, where the exact fare would be automatically deducted.
As there would be photographic ID on the cards, crime would be reduced, as a stolen card would not be very useful to a thief. The potential for recouping the money on a stolen card has also been built into the system.
The Starfish system is designed to assist both commuters and transport operators to be more efficient. Commuters will be able to get more value for money, with more accurate assessment of their journey by implementing zoned systems across all forms of public transport, as GPS will be used to determine and calculate accurate pricing. Operators are also given the opportunity to create special packages.
Commuters will be able to use a single Starfish card to pay for multiple forms of transport.