Sierra Leone Government and the World Bank transform public transport in Freetown with Transit Data from WhereIsMyTransport
The Sierra Leone Government, in partnership with the World Bank, set out to invest in public transport and improve climate resilience, inclusivity, and competitiveness in the city of Freetown. The challenge? A lack of complete public transport network data, critical for conducting a network vulnerability and accessibility study, and feasibility study. WhereIsMyTransport stepped in, mapping the city’s entire public transport network in just 22 days. Our data played an integral role in identifying and prioritising the areas most vulnerable to climate impact, and the interventions needed to strengthen the resilience of the public transport network.
Freetown is home to over one million people, and is responsible for around 30% of Sierra Leone’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). A resilient transport network is essential for growth and development due to the city being vulnerable to climate impact shocks, including flooding and landslides.
In 2018, when the World Bank initially set out to evaluate the region’s vulnerability, an accurate assessment was deemed impossible due to a lack of comprehensive and reliable transit data.
“The informal transit network of Freetown [has] little visibility to both city planners and the people it serves.” - Fatima Arroyo-Arroyo and Xavier Espinet, World Bank
Informal public transport in Freetown is particularly important. At the time, only 20% of demand was met by formalised buses, with most commuters relying on informal public transport to get around. In Freetown, this meant poda podas (minibuses), okadas (bike taxis), kekes (three-wheeler taxis), and large, privately operated buses.
To achieve their goal of supporting the Government of Sierra Leone with improving the resilience of the public transport network, the World Bank established three main priorities:
- Understand the impact of flooding on transport services.
- Compare the difference in commuters mobility patterns, during and outside of rainy seasons.
- Analyse the changes in accessibility due to climate impact.
Four layers of data were needed to deliver on this: transport supply and demand data, poverty data, flooding data, and contextual data related to education, health, and tourism.
For transport supply and demand data, WhereIsMyTransport and the World Bank trained university students from Fourah Bay college to collect network information using WhereIsMyTransport’s data production tools, on both formal and informal public transport routes.
Since 2015, WhereIsMyTransport has developed an advanced, custom-built data management platform for collecting, processing, validating, and maintaining Transit Data in emerging markets. Fourah Bay College students used our bespoke mobile phone application to collect data, made available as a GTFS file—the global standard for Transit Data—through the World Bank's Development Data Partnership initiative.
Using WhereIsMyTransport’s data management platform, students from Fourah Bay College produced over 4,000kms of formal and informal public transport network data from ferries, taxis, and buses. The collection and processing of this data took only 22 days.
How the World Bank leveraged Transit Data from WhereIsMyTransport
Transit Data from WhereIsMyTransport proved critical, supporting a route analysis that formed part of the Sierra Leone Integrated and Resilient Urban Mobility Project (SLIRUMP). Our Transit Data also informed:
- Route network planning through the optimisation of existing routes
- Identification of corridors for investments in formal bus operations
- Identification of locations for formal bus stop infrastructure
Layering data sources
“The richness of the analysis, and the work of [WhereIsMyTransport’s] GTFS, is combining it with other datasets.” - Fatima Arroyo-Arroyo, World Bank
For more in-depth analysis of Freetown, the World Bank combined Transit Data from WhereIsMyTransport with other datasets:
- Using a Geographic Information System (GIS)—a computer system used to store, visualise, and analyse geographical data—GTFS stop data from WhereIsMyTransport was combined with population data to better understand access to the existing public transport network. This analysis revealed the number of people living within 400 metres of public transport stops.
- The World Bank conducted further modelling, layering our GTFS data with tourism, health, and education data to assess the impact of proposed investments on network accessibility.
- Open Street Map (OSM) road network data was also overlaid with our Transit Data, using information on capacity, number of routes, and vehicle frequencies to establish which corridors had the largest volume of transport across the city.
- Combining WhereIsMyTransport’s Transit Data with boarding and alighting data, the city of Freetown and the World Bank were able to generate unique and novel insights on high-demand and high-traffic transport routes.
The World Bank established that an additional 213,788 people would gain access to the Central Business District in 30 minutes or less with their proposed investments, representing a 50% increase compared to the baseline situation.
Transit Data from WhereIsMyTransport also played an integral role in uncovering five key transport corridors in the city, helping the World Bank identify the two priority transport corridors as part of their feasibility study.
Additionally, the data we produced was used to support a $50,000,000 investment programme into the formalisation of two transport corridors in Freetown.
“I think the GTFS data will be one of the default datasets that we collect in cities when we want to start understanding public transport. It brings lots of opportunities to build up a series of analytics around it, to better understand public transport.”- Fatima Arroyo-Arroyo, World Bank
Our comprehensive public transport network data—provided in the easily integrated and global standard GTFS format—was the foundation of the in-depth analysis undertaken by the World Bank. In turn, this provided the critical information needed to inform data-driven investment strategies, making Freetown a more competitive and inclusive city, enhancing climate resilience, and improving access to essential services for all citizens.
“Transit Data, provided by WhereIsMyTransport, was the core data asset used for the bus management application developed in Freetown. And this data is now available on an open data platform—DT4A—led by the AFD and Digital Transport 4 Africa, tackling traffic congestion, pollution, and road safety across Africa.” - Fatima Arroyo-Arroyo, The World Bank
About the World Bank
The World Bank Group is an international development organisation, and comprises five institutions. Their aim is to reduce poverty and improve the lives of residents in developing countries.
Images courtesy of Random Institute