What if you could book your bus ticket in Haiti in under two minutes instead of four hours?
Translokal, the start-up that is getting ready to launch Haiti’s first online ticket booking agency, will give close to 500,000 travelers each year the option to buy their tickets using a credit card or a cash service on their smartphone. This is one way of using technological innovation to simplify daily life.
“I drew inspiration from my friend’s story,” noted Mackenson Pierre, the company’s director. “He needed to buy a bus ticket.”
As ticket sales agencies are located in difficult-to-access areas, his friend spent half a day in a tap-tap, a brightly colored, uncomfortable public van, paying at least 100 gourdes (US$2) for the trip. Translokal is proposing to offer the service for 25 gourdes—one-quarter of the transportation cost—and in one minute 15 seconds.
As a result of this innovation, in June 2015 the start-up won the Digital Jam Haiti competition, a World Bank-supported initiative that is already flourishing in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean. This initiative seeks to identify young, promising entrepreneurs in the virtual economy, train them, and encourage potential investors to invest in their start-up. In a country with a youth unemployment rate of 60 percent, attention must be paid to job opportunities that can be generated by this economy.
An untapped market
According to the start-up, every day some 1,400 travelers use the interurban transport networks served by 14 bus companies. The main destinations are Cap-Haïtien, Haiti’s second city, and les Gonaives. Passengers travel for a variety of reasons—business, school, family, and local tourism. The average ticket costs 700 gourdes.
The target market is currently untapped: it is estimated that roughly 30 percent of travelers have smartphones. As a result of its simplicity, the software that has been developed is not subject to the whims of Haiti’s internet networks. In addition, a special line is available for those unable to access the Internet: they will be able to complete the transaction using a telephone-based payment service.
However, in a country ranked 188 out of 189 for business start-up in the 2016 Doing Business report, the challenge facing start-ups is not merely technological in nature.