Q&A: Felipe Duque and Chienne Wolmarans on high-quality public transport data and the WhereIsMyTransport Data Portal
Billions of people in emerging markets rely on public transport to get around. WhereIsMyTransport is taking another bold step towards improving access to public transport data in these markets with our Data Portal, where anyone can interrogate a sample of our data — for free and without sign-up. In this interview, we speak with Felipe Duque, Global Business Development Director, and Chienne Wolmarans, Geo-Informatics Lead, about our new Data Portal and the opportunities made possible by high-quality public transport data.
What do you do at WhereIsMyTransport, and what’s your background?
Felipe: I’m WhereIsMyTransport’s Global Business Development Director and I’ve been working in transit and transportation solutions for more than ten years now. For the last five years, I’ve mostly been focusing on mobility applications, mobility-as-a-service, and the data that powers those applications.
Chienne: I’m our Geo-Informatics Lead and my background is land surveying, cartography, and hydrography. I started my career as a GI technician, working for nearly five years in Angola and the Congo as a hydrographic surveyor and a data centre manager. For public transport data, the principles are the same. We work with coordinates, and we work to create value through quality data.
What are the biggest challenges in understanding public transport and how people in emerging markets move?
Chienne: I live in South Africa, where public transport is massive. I didn’t realise the true significance of it — all the stakeholders — until I started working with the data. The public transport ecosystem is complex, and every emerging market has differences. How do you present data in a way that people across markets can make sense of it and extract value from it? That is the work we do, creating high-quality data that is easy to access and understand. Good data tells a story that might be different from the status quo or the understanding that many people have. High-quality data is crucial to get to the bottom of the challenges, and it provides people with the ammunition to deal with these challenges.
Felipe: Informal public transport is always a challenge for people to understand, simply because of the flexible way in which it operates. That’s why we’re really proud to offer our clients high-quality data from the entire public transport network — all formal and informal modes. This information helps governments, businesses, and any other stakeholder understand how the system really works, and see how valuable that data is for planning, organising, and optimising public transport operations and other services.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned from working with WhereIsMyTransport’s public transport data?
Felipe: What I’ve learnt since joining WhereIsMyTransport is how valuable this data is, and the impact of using it properly. I’ve seen how it is changing the daily lives of millions of people, and especially the most vulnerable people in society — the ones that rely on public transport to go to work, to study, and to essentially be the economic engines of their countries. I see that businesses, institutions, and governments are increasingly learning the value of this data, and how they can apply it as they improve their services. The role WhereIsMyTransport plays is delivering the powerful data that helps stakeholders plan for better investments — changes that result in better services for citizens.
Chienne: My eyes weren’t open to informal public transport, even though I saw it every day and I knew people using it. WhereIsMyTransport revealed its significance and its impact on society. Things like safety, security, costs, and their effect on communities. A lot of people’s livelihoods depend on public transport—this is the case across emerging markets. This learning changed my mindset, and that’s why I like doing what I do. Public transport in emerging markets used to be a grey area, but we are the ones that are putting the colour into that grey area, and helping people have real impact.
You were both involved in the launch of WhereIsMyTransport’s new data portal. What can people get from using this tool?
Felipe: Our Data Portal is a very fresh and simple idea. Anyone can now experience and interrogate our data, without signing up. It’s direct access to our data — that makes it much easier for people to see what we do, and the value for them.
Chienne: We talk about making the invisible visible, and that’s something our Data Portal does really well — especially for informal public transport. Formal public transport is often well known. It’s run by big organisations that have the means to promote it. Our Data Portal features data from the formal system, overlaid with data from the informal system, showing the distinction between the two. That visibility is key. It’s a visual mechanism that tells a big story.
Felipe: And it really brings to life how powerful, useful, and valuable our data is. The Data Portal gives us a chance to share our high-quality data with more people, really quickly and easily.
Chienne: That helps our customers and potential customers. For example, we produce Transit Data in the GTFS format, but not everybody has the experience to know what that is. But our Data Portal also offers insights into our other data points. Points of Interest, Real-Time Alerts. It all goes hand in hand, telling the story of how people in emerging markets get around.
What is public transport like where you live?
Chienne: I live in Cape Town, South Africa. Our train systems are struggling, but the couple of formal bus systems we have are well run and largely on time. I’ll often use them if I’m working in the city. Informal public transport is big here — about 60–70% of the population use it. I know informal public transport users who struggle financially because of the costs involved in getting from A to B. Fares depend on fuel prices so they can fluctuate, and journeys are often long. One challenge we face is that informal public transport relies on numbers. Vehicles need to be full, drivers are often in a rush, and traffic laws are not always abided by. This is why we hear safety concerns about informal transport.
Felipe: I’m from Colombia but I live in Berlin. The public transport here is efficient, accessible, and safe. Public transport in Germany is also really extensive, locally and nationally, which offers many options for people to move around conveniently. In Germany, full public transport data is available and reliable, with information about routes, prices, and timetables. That makes public transport attractive and easy to use. I can compare my options and make decisions based on facts. I can plan, save time, and actually arrive on time. And best of all, most of the time, public transport is actually the fastest way to get to your desired destination.