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South Africa

From Nairobi to Manila, mobile phones are changing the lives of bus riders

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture

Every day around the world, millions of people rely on buses to get around. In many cities, these services carry the bulk of urban trips, especially in Africa and Latin America. They are known by many different names—matatus, dalalas, minibus taxis, colectivos, diablos rojos, micros, etc.—but all have one thing in common: they are either hardly regulated… or not regulated at all. Although buses play a critical role in the daily life of many urban dwellers, there are a variety of complaints that have spurred calls for improvement and reform. For users, the lack of information and visibility on services has been a fundamental concern. Having to pay separately for each ride disproportionately hurts the poor traveling from the periphery, who often have to catch several buses to reach the center. The vehicles are old and sometimes unsafe. Adding to concerns about safety, bus drivers compete with each other for passengers in what is known in Latin America as the “guerra del centavo” or “penny war”. Non-users, planners, and city authorities also complain about the pollution and accidents caused by these drivers as well as the congestion generated by the ‘wall of buses’ on key city arterials.
 
To address these issues, cities have attempted to reform these informal bus services by setting up concession contracts and bring multiple bus owners and operators together under formal companies (refer to the attached note: Bus Reform in Developing Countries—Reflections on the Experience thus Far). But even though some of them have made great strides in revamping their bus services (particularly by implementing Bus Rapid Transit systems), the overall success of these attempts has been limited, and unregulated buses remain, in countless cities, a vital component of the urban transport ecosystem.
 
However, we are now witnessing a different, more organic kind of change that is disrupting the world of informal buses using ubiquitous cheap sensors and mobile technology.

Transit-oriented development — What does it take to get it right?

Chyi-Yun Huang's picture
Follow the authors on Twitter: @chyiyunhuang and @shomik_raj
 
A recent trip to Addis Ababa really brought the imperatives of transit-oriented development as a complement to mass transit investments home to us. As a strategic response to rapid urbanization and growing motorization rates, Addis is one of several African cities currently developing public mass transit systems such as light rail and bus-rapid transit. Similar initiatives are budding in Dar es Salaam, Nairobi, and other cities in South Africa.

It is well known that transit-oriented development, or ToD, is a high-value complement to mass transit development. Compact, mixed-use, high density development around key mass transit stations can have the dual benefits of creating a ridership base that enhances the economic and financial viability of the mass transit investment and compounding the accessibility benefits a mass transit system can bring to a city’s residents. This is not to mention the intrinsic value in creating vibrant social gathering places for communities at strategic locations.

Transport networks: Where there is a Will, There is a Way

Marc Juhel's picture
The transport sector contributes between 5 and 10% of gross domestic product in most countries, so the question of how to integrate transport networks for sustainable and inclusive growth is a crucial one.

And that is precisely one of the main topics that we discussed at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig during a session on Integrating Transport Networks for Sustainable Growth and Development. The panel also included Morocco’s Vice-Minister of Transport; the Head of Transport from the Latin America Development Bank (CAF), and the CEO and Chairman of the Management Board of Deutsche Bahn AG.

The first unexpected development happened when the moderator showed up with a fifteen-minute delay, having been trapped… in a Deutsche Bahn train stopped on the tracks between Berlin and Leipzig following an unfortunate encounter between a bulldozer and a catenary cable. To be fair, the incident had little to do with the quality of the railway service and was quickly resolved. That is what resilient transport is about.

Stopping the Carnage on the Roads: a Multisectoral Challenge

Patricio V. Marquez's picture

During a trip to South Africa last week, I was saddened to read this newspaper headline:  “24 people killed, 14 seriously injured, and 44 with minor injuries after bus smashed into a mountainside.” The bus was bringing people back to Cape Town's township of Khayelitsha from a church gathering in eastern Mpumalanga—most of the occupants were women and children.