How Infostructure Can Transform Public Transport

Minibus taxis in Johannesburg, South Africa

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted public transport systems around the world, cutting into ridership and revenue, even as essential workers — and entire economies — continue to depend on reliable service.

Developed-market commuters have generally received swift updates on changes as public transport agencies cut back services or rearrange bus routes to respond to shifting demand. However, as we note in our recent feature in Digitalisation World, service updates are harder to come by in emerging-market cities. 92% of the world’s largest lower-middle income cities lack full public transport network maps, let alone data on frequencies or fare levels.

There is rarely any digitalised information on the smaller, independently run vehicles that are typically the dominant mode in emerging-market cities. Yet data on this part of the network is key for producing an ‘Infostructure’ layer that informs city stakeholders.

Data production from public transport in emerging markets requires a bespoke approach, and keeping that data up to date is no different. Networks change rapidly in response to demand shifts, and COVID-19 fast-tracked those changes. Route networks are transforming in a matter of weeks, rather than evolving over years. Our recent work in Gauteng — South Africa’s largest and most densely-populated province — found that 30% of minibus taxi routes in some areas had changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To keep our data sets reflective of the ground truth, WhereIsMyTransport maintains local data-collection teams in every city where we work. In response to COVID-19, we brought forward plans to set up fully remote management for our data collection projects. Just as transport networks nimbly responded to the demands of the pandemic, our team has nimbly kept up with the challenges of data production in dynamic markets.

The speed and far-reaching nature of mobility network shifts emerging-market cities make reliable data more important than ever.

Stories about mobility and Majority-World megacities.

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