Navigating the informal transport systems of a bustling city

WhereIsMyTransport mapped the entire public transport network of Cape Town, South Africa.

WhereIsMyTransport

Finding your way around a new city can be near impossible, but for decades, commuters have navigated Cape Town, South Africa's sprawling informal taxi network of more than 7 500 unregulated minibuses using only word of mouth. Now, for the first time ever, this network has been mapped alongside official rail and bus networks by WhereIsMyTransport, a Cape Town-based startup on a mission to improve emerging cities’ transit systems through big data.

In 2016, WhereIsMyTransport secured an investment of US$1.536 million to fund a new open information platform that collates transit data for formal and informal services and combines it with analytics and communication tools. Less than a year later, Cape Town now has its formal and informally run transport system data captured, integrated and openly available.

Catering mainly to the underserved and mostly black population living outside the city's central business district, minibus taxis are a distinctly South African phenomenon that arose from the physical separation of the apartheid era. With no set timetable and destinations generally being yelled from the driver's seat, they’re not the easiest for the uninitiated to circumnavigate; which is where the value of WhereIsMyTransport emerges.

WhereIsMyTransport

While it only covers the city's 10 busiest taxi hubs, the map reveals quite a lot about the mother city. It highlights the quickest route to your destination, it exposes underrepresented communities where formal transit doesn’t reach and lays bare the disparate access to public services that still exists. But the map’s real significance lies in the data being openly and dynamically available.

“Fully mapping Cape Town is a phenomenal achievement for our team,” said Devin De Vries, co-founder of WhereIsMyTransport. “We’ve demonstrated that complex transport systems can be mapped at a much lower cost than many cities believe.”

WhereIsMyTransport will continue collecting taxi network data in South African cities including Port Elizabeth, Durban, Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, and Bloemfontein, all due to be complete by mid-2017, and has the intention of fully mapping 20 African cities by the end of 2018.