Picture: 123RF/SCANRAIL
Picture: 123RF/SCANRAIL

It has become the tool with which people navigate the world: we use Google Maps to plan a road trip, look at an aerial image of our previous home or determine the quickest route to the airport.

Picture: 123RF/MACROVEVTOR
Picture: 123RF/MACROVEVTOR

And new research has revealed how the digital mapping service saves consumers money. This is what it suggests:

  • Using digital maps has reduced travel time by 7% on average in SA. This value in time (based on local wage rates) has been calculated by research agency AlphaBeta to be worth R11bn;
  • Reduced driving time has saved 48l of fuel per car, saving R37bn in total;
  • SA users save about 100m hours (500 minutes/year per user) from more efficient purchases. This means using maps helped consumers find stockists of products in more efficient locations; and 
  • Emergency response times have decreased by 20%.

The research suggests that 96% of SA’s online population (about half the actual population) use digital maps.

The report was released by Google SA. Fortune Sibanda, its public policy and government relationships manager, says Google has long known how powerful mapping services can be. It not only offers tools that make it easier for people to get around; its tools are also used for exploration, business, and education.

"Digital maps have become powerful tools for policymakers to ensure the safety of their citizens, and for companies and consumers to save time and money when managing their daily affairs."

And he says benefits are far greater than people realise.

"We discovered that geospatial services not only make life easier — by helping people turn their intentions of finding a place into actions of getting there — but also support the global economy by creating tangible benefits for businesses and consumers," says Sibanda.

The report says digital mapping services have provided SA consumers with R50bn in total annual benefits. This figure is calculated using a monetary value of R1,795/user that SA consumers place on the service. This is what people surveyed for the report would be willing to pay for digital maps for a year of access.

"This includes the petrol and time-saving effects created by being able to beat traffic and, similarly, people using digital maps can shop more efficiently, finding the fastest routes between stores, which once again saves them time and fuel," says Sibanda.

Consumers are not the only ones benefiting. Google says its mapping services have supported about R456bn in sales for SA businesses by providing information such as store hours, contact information and reviews.

"Using a combination of information obtained from third-party sources, consumer surveys and proprietary research, the study was able to come to that figure by determining the economic value of that information," says Sibanda.

Frost & Sullivan analyst Lehlohonolo Mokenela says digital
mapping has been an incredibly powerful tool, particularly in the transport and logistics sector, and has spawned a range of applications across sectors such as tourism, retail and education.

"In a little over a decade, Google Maps has established a dominant position in this space, with its application among the most commonly used. It has helped end-users save countless hours spent on the roads searching for destinations or opting for delivery services instead," says Mokenela.

Consumer brands have also drawn from foot traffic data.

But Mokenela says there are risks. Hackers can gain access to a customer location for cyberattacks.

Google’s report comes a month after Uber SA announced its partnership with the CSIR to share traffic data with government and urban planners to understand the transportation needs of cities and how to best invest in new infrastructure.

Head of public policy at Uber SA, Yolisa Kani, says cities need to change, and are forced to make "gut decisions": "Uber empowers cities to change, and help make data-driven decisions."

The free tool enables the measuring of travel times based on a specific set of conditions. The tool can be accessed at movement.uber.com, where anonymised traffic data for Gauteng is available to anyone with an Uber account.

Mokenela thinks there is scope to use such applications in the public sector, including sending out alerts to the public to inform them of traffic conditions, health and safety as well as security and environmental incidents.

"The Johannesburg Roads Agency is already making use of the Find&Fix app to find potholes reported by drivers to improve and maintain road quality. It is expected that the growing use of drones in the market will spur digital mapping solutions," he says.

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