To get from points A to B in Cape Town, South Africa, you can’t just hop on the city bus. Informally run “minibus taxis” — white vans that hold around 12 people at once — are the city’s largest mode of shared transportation. Although they tend to be pretty ubiquitous, finding one isn’t a precise science. Users “rely on personal experience and scant information to get around, and the industry isn’t well-integrated with other modes,” according to Cape Town-based startup WhereIsMyTransport.
Today, the company announced the release of a project that integrates data from Cape Town’s formal transportation networks with the minibus.
The platform was created “to allow developers, transport operators and government officials to build solutions, such as journey planners, fare estimators, communications tools and connected digital signage, that improve access to public transport information for citizens in emerging cities, as well as to provide insight and analytics to aid city planning,” according to the company.
From tuk-tuks to jeepneys and matatus, WhereIsMyTransport estimates that informally run transit makes up around 80 percent of total transportation service in mid-size cities across the developing world.
Data collection is increasingly being used by cities to troubleshoot transportation solutions, both inside and outside of official channels. Take the “peseros,” Mexico City’s “ya-kinda-just-gotta-know-about-them” bus routes. In 2016, a citywide mapathon gathered info on the routes by awarding money and other prizes to participants who rode them and shared GPS data. And hackathons from Seattle to Bogota gather information on everything from ticket evaders to parking availability.
WhereIsMyTransport will be mapping and releasing information on East London, South Africa and Gaborone, Botswana, in March of this year. It’s also collected data on informally run networks in Accra, Ghana, and Nairobi, Kenya. In August of last year, Disrupt Africa reported that the company had secured the U.S. equivalent of $1.5 million to fund its new transit API.
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.