Data Production

WhereIsMyTransport Makes the Invisible Visible in Cape Town’s Minibus Taxi Network

In Cape Town, informal minibus taxis are the largest mode of shared transport. Users rely on personal experience and scant information to get around, and the industry isn’t well-integrated with other modes. WhereIsMyTransport completed a three-week data collection project to capture the routes, fares, and frequencies of the 600+ routes that cover the city.

Whether they are called taxis, tuk-tuks, jeepneys or matatus, informal transport accounts for up to 80% of public transport passenger trips in medium-sized cities across the Majority World. While a staple of everyday urban life in Africa and elsewhere, information on these services can be sparse and difficult to access.

“We believe that the information challenge in our cities undermines our infrastructure. We want to make the systems that exist more accessible for everyone.” - Graeme Leighton, WhereIsMyTransport

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Over the course of three weeks, our data collectors captured over 1,000 routes, travelling 13,410 kms. They used our proprietary tools to track the routes, and to collect important metadata about its operation, on and off-peak times and on the weekends. We created backend tools to process the data each day as it came in, validating, cleaning, and snapping the coordinates to the actual road network to make sure all the information is as accurate as we can make it.

“Every assumption about the network in Cape Town was challenged,” says Leighton. “We discovered dozens of previously unknown routes, and many documented routes no longer operated.” Of those thousand routes, 657 of them proved to be unique—another important learning for the team.

Data is verified as it is collected through both human and computational means. Data collectors methodically work through route lists, comparing them to those available at the ranks and discussing all known routes from that rank with the rank managers and drivers. As it is collected, the data is visualised on a map and checked by the collection coordinator for features such as route length, coverage, and network density; this includes comparing routes A-B and B-A, confirmed unidirectional routes, or unusual frequencies. This method ensures that every route that is active in the city is captured, even low frequency or weekend only routes. Some routes may exist on paper in city registries or licences but no longer be operational; these routes are not reflected in our data.

While the taxi industry has been criticised for resisting regulation and interference, our collectors found that the drivers and rank managers they interviewed were happy to share information and receptive to the idea of making it available. Leighton says they didn’t see any of the pushback they expected: “Once they know that we want to make it easier for people to find and use taxis, they cooperate. This is recognition from the industry that information can help them.”

people entering a mini bus taxi

We recruited local data collectors with intimate knowledge of the system, training them in our tools and providing them with everything from power banks to lunch. “It was really inspiring, how many of the data collectors were passionate about what we’re doing,” says Leighton. One collector, Khathutshelo Maumela, was so motivated that he joined the WhereIsMyTransport team full-time to help expand taxi data across the Majority World.

“The experience of our transport in Cape Town and how it can be horrible at times, and me being a public user—that’s what pushed me. Besides collecting data for more cities, we’re also showing how practical and useful it can be to help people get where they need to go.” - Khathutshelo Maumela, WhereIsMyTransport

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