How high-quality mobility and location data can lead to sustainable cities

6 min readJun 20, 2022

The key to effectively tackling global challenges, such as climate change and poverty reduction, is not just data — since there is an abundance of this — it’s high-quality data. And it’s analysis of that data that results in actionable outcomes. According to an article published by Forbes, the availability of high-quality datasets on social, health, or environmental issues allows deeper understanding for relevant stakeholders, and the information that makes it possible to put the right changes in place. But with more and more data being created, ensuring its quality is increasingly important.

Data collection using Collector — WhereIsMyTransport’s data collection tool — in Bandung, Indonesia

So what is high-quality data?

Thomas C. Redman, author of the book Data-Driven, considers high-quality data to be information that is:

Fit for [its] intended uses in operations, decision making and planning”.

Quality data reflects some or all of the following characteristics:

  1. Completeness: How comprehensive is the data? For us at WhereIsMyTransport, and for our Transit Data offering, we ask ourselves: is the entire public transport network — formal and informal — mapped?
  2. Relevance: Does the data serve the purposes of the user? For example, if the data is intended to inform site selection, does the Point of Interest (POI) Data provided support these evaluations?
  3. Accuracy: Does the dataset accurately reflect the information it is intended to? If a mobility and location data provider maps transport networks, are those networks comprehensive, and an accurate reflection of what’s happening on the ground in these markets?
  4. Credibility: Has data from this provider solved challenges in emerging markets in the past?
  5. Timeliness: Are there data maintenance processes in place to ensure freshness of data? At WhereIsMyTransport, our custom-built data management platform and local teams ensure the data we provide is consistently maintained and up to date.
  6. Interpretability: Can a client easily make use of the data provided? Our data assets are provided in global-standard formats — GTFS, POIs, and GTFS-R — making it easy to integrate into software applications.

Explore our case studies to see how data from WhereIsMyTransport has enriched consumer applications, augmented transport impact evaluations, and informed feasibility evaluations.

Challenges and opportunities

Climate Change
Climate change cannot be properly considered without considering poverty too. The consequences of climate change will be unevenly experienced across the world, with developing nations being especially vulnerable:

“Climate change is going to amplify the already existing divide between those who have resources and those who do not,” Eliot Levine, Director of the environment technical support unit at Mercy Corps.

Bajaj drives through flooded streets in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Bajaj drives through flooded streets in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Christina Chan, Director of the World Resource Institute’s Climate Resilience Practice, further explores the inequality in climate change:

“The world’s poorest communities often live on the most fragile land, and they are often politically, socially, and economically marginalised, making them especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.”

So what role does transportation play? Each year, transportation accounts for 15–20% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the globe. After the recent COP26 conference, Philip Turner, Head of Sustainability at UITP, had this to say:

The international gathering of world leaders, decision makers and stakeholders at COP26 in Glasgow comes at a crucial time for our planet, and tough, necessary decisions must be made. As a major solution to helping make our cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable for all, public transport must be at the heart of these discussions as we look towards a post-pandemic world.”

Many of the discussions at the COP26 centred around the electrification of vehicles. Yet the electrification of transport will look very different in developed and emerging markets. In this New Civil Engineer article, Devin de Vries, CEO of WhereIsMyTransport, shares his thoughts on how the electrification of vehicles benefits from an in-depth understanding of how people move around cities.

“The roadmap to reducing emissions in a city like Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam, where private vehicle ownership is low and public transport use is high, may look a lot different to reducing emissions in a city like London, for instance.” Devin de Vries, CEO of WhereIsMyTransport

Dala dala hub in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

In a report by the World Resources Institute and Transport Decarbonisation Alliance (TDA), one of the opportunities highlighted to combat the effects of climate change was ‘stabilising and re-imagining public transport’. The report also argued that investment in public transport could improve access to jobs, road safety, and reinforce smart urban growth.

Public transport and economic access
The World Bank notes that transport is essential for poverty reduction and economic access ,connecting people to services like healthcare and education and, in turn, supporting economic growth.

Access can be defined as ease of reaching valued destinations and services. Access is therefore underpinned by transport infrastructure and land use. To improve access, improvement of transport infrastructure is essential.

Passengers waiting at a bus stop in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Passengers at a bus stop in Dhaka, Bangladesh

The value of access can also be seen when considering what a lack of this access means.

A lack of access to jobs and basic services like sanitation and education places a burden on individuals. This burden limits their opportunities, and in turn, their ability to thrive in cities.

Rapid urbanisation and the impact on transportation
According to the World Bank, 55% of the world’s population lives in cities. By 2050, we could see nearly 7 out of 10 people in the world living in cities.

Urbanisation has, in the past, been associated with economic growth and development. However, the rapid urbanisation we are currently witnessing in some cities can lead to growing inequalities and poverty.

Rising population is outpacing urban land consumption by as much as 50%. As populations increase, so too do the demands for essential services, housing, and well-connected transport systems. This exponential growth has seen city planning and infrastructure development fail to keep up with urbanisation.

Several people wait to board a Dala dala in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Several people wait to board a Dala dala in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Dar es Salaam is a city set to reach megacity status‚ — over 10 million residents — by 2030.Tanzania’s business capital is living the effects of rapid urbanisation. Population growth in the city has resulted in spatial expansion and urban sprawl, which in turn, has left the transport system unable to cope. Public transport is essential in Dar es Salaam, where less than one in ten households own a car, and as a result, 43% of commuters use public transport to get to and from work daily. On average, commuters spend about two hours a day on public transport.

Move towards Transit-oriented Development (TOD)
Transit-oriented development (TOD) refers to an urban planning philosophy that promotes the clustering of mixed-use developments within walking distance of mass public transport systems. The idea behind this is to encourage ease of access to valuable destinations and services while decreasing emissions through shorter travel. It emphasises the link between urban transport, economic growth, and land use. As such, TOD proposes that the effective planning of sustainable cities should take all of these considerations into account.

When we consider how inextricably linked transportation is to accessibility and economic growth, and how rapid urbanisation can lead to increased pressure on essential infrastructure and services, and greater climate change impact, TOD is one attempt at addressing the challenges of rapid urbanisation, promoting more inclusive access as well as a decrease in carbon emissions.

High-quality mobility and location data underpins the solutions to global challenges such as poverty reduction and accessibility, as well as the decarbonisation of transport. Data from WhereIsMyTransport enables a depth of understanding that is essential in these dynamic, high-growth regions. WhereIsMyTransport is the trusted and experienced hyperlocal partner needed to bring about the most impactful solutions in emerging markets.

Discover how our data offering can help your organisation bring about the most impactful solutions. Book a meeting with one of our experts today.




Stories about data, mobility, and the Majority World from the WhereIsMyTransport team.