Cape Town transport platform wins international award

Madeline Zhu, head of partnerships of WhereIsMyTransport. (Carin Smith, Fin24)
Madeline Zhu, head of partnerships of WhereIsMyTransport. (Carin Smith, Fin24)

Leipzig – WhereIsMyTransport, an open digital platform founded by students of the University of Cape Town, has won the 2017 Promising Transport Innovation Award at the annual summit of the International Transport Forum (ITF) currently taking place in Leipzig, Germany.

According to ITF secretary general Jose Viegas, WhereIsMyTransport is a ground-breaking project that shows the way to the ‘infostructure’ that will drive mobility in the future.

“Among the many transport related Big Data projects, it stands out in that it considers informal transport, empowers user choice and encourages developing countries to start thinking about data collection and planning,” said Viegas, who was also a member of the award jury.

Madeline Zhu, head of partnerships of WhereIsMyTransport, told Fin24 at the summit that the vision of the company is to rethink mobility in cities in developing countries like South Africa to make public transportation information as accessible to passengers as it would be in first world cities.

WhereIsMyTransport provides information on formally and informally run transport services. It was launched in August 2016 and currently already supports 20 cities in 10 countries in Africa (including Cape Town and Durban) and the Middle East in providing better information about mobility.

The platform centralises mobility data anyone can build upon to provide transport information. It can also be used to develop software products like mobility apps for transport users, or to analyse metrics to improve transport provision.

According to Zhu, the company works with transport operators, cities and governments to deliver innovations that make mobility services easier to use. Their research includes information on minibus taxi services and routes as well, for instance.

“It is estimated that in Africa as much as 80% of public transport can be informally run transport. That is why we have calculated that transport uncertainty in South Africa alone has an annual economic cost of about $104bn,” explained Zhu.

The WhereIsMyTransport platform was built to accept data in any format and live coordinates from any kind of device. Cape Town – where most of those running the company are still based – became the first city to have both its formal and informal transport mapped and the data openly available since early in 2017.

“For us it is about enabling critical decision-making and for cities to be able to leverage existing infrastructure they already have,” said Zhu.

“We think openness is crucial for going forward and more than 300 people have already signed up to work with our platform to develop their own products since August 2016. Because we are open, we have a modular licensing structure and the platform is run like a business.”

For WhereIsMyTransport the crux is about public private partnerships and to work with governments. Zhu pointed out, though, that rigid public procurement processes often make it difficult for young tech start-ups to survive the initial procurement timeline.

* Fin24 is a guest of the ITF at its summit.

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