How Cape Town’s Informally-Run Minibus Taxi Network was Mapped

by Joe Peach

Getting around by public transport isn’t always easy, but it’s certainly easier when you’ve got access to reliable network information. In many cities , local authorities make public transport data openly available to developers, which makes apps, websites, and other digital services possible. This, in turn, means city navigation is easier for public transport users.

However, in cities where public transport is provided by different operators, both formal and informally-run, there is an increase in data complexity, and as a result, a lack of data consistency and availability. This is the situation in many emerging cities, including Cape Town, making public transport information services hard to build, or just plain unreliable.

This is the challenge Cape Town and London-based company WhereIsMyTransport is working to solve. Our public transport data platform is open for anyone to use, and has network information from cities across Africa and the Middle East. But there was one thing missing from our Cape Town data set: informally-run minibus taxis.

Anyone who knows Cape Town knows about minibus taxis. They are one of the most-used modes of transport, visible and audible throughout the city. But love them or hate them, they are crucial part of the public transport mix. Inspired by mapping projects in Accra, Beirut and Nairobi, we set out to do what no one has done before: capture the entire network, integrate the resulting data alongside all formal public transport data, and make that data set available to anyone to use, for free.

Download the map here

Our data collection team did this in under 3 weeks . We turned to all known minibus taxi information in Cape Town, working our way through previously-mapped routes, removing those no longer operating and capturing new ones. We visited every taxi rank, riding over 13,000kms on the routes that passed through them, capturing information using a toolkit we built especially for the task, which is now available for anyone to use to map their own city’s network.

After detailed checks we found that Cape Town has 657 unique minibus taxi routes covering 8,870 kms. This data – the full informally-run network in Cape Town – is live in the WhereIsMyTransport platform along with all formal network data. Anyone who wants to build solutions for Cape Town’s public transport can sign up to use it. Minibus taxi network data from East London and Gaborone, Botswana, will launch in March, and we will map all of South Africa’s major metros by mid-2017.

To celebrate our achievement in Cape Town, we created a schematic map of the most active parts of the city’s minibus taxi network, inspired by the simplified public transport maps seen in cities all over the world. We turned to our data, finding the most-used taxi ranks in the city and building a map of the return routes starting or ending at those ranks. The end result is this map featuring 137 of the city’s 657 unique routes, intended to offer an insight into the city’s extensive network, and to draw attention to the possibilities for better integration between taxis and other modes of transport.

As seen in cities across the globe, reliable public transport data can be the foundation of transformative services – like multi-modal journey planning or e-fares. It can be used by transport operators or city governments for decision making, or to reveal insights about how a city functions. As with any other data set, the true potential lies in how people use it.

Joe Peach is Head of Digital Marketing at WhereIsMyTransport