Keeping Cap-Haïtien on the move: Using disruptive technology to analyze mobility patterns

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A congested street in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti. Photo: Andrew Wiseman/Flickr
A congested street in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti. Photo: Andrew Wiseman/Flickr

Cap Haitien (Okap in creole) is Haiti’s second largest city. With an estimated population of 300,000 to 500,000 people, the city has been growing at a very fast pace since the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.

The current pattern of urban development, however, presents a number of challenges. Most new residents tend to settle southern and east of the urban core in low-lying areas that are prone to flooding. In addition, this rapid expansion has happened without appropriate investments in critical infrastructure and public services such as drainage or waste collection. Another issue is the use of streets and roadways, with pedestrians, vehicles, and street sellers all competing for space.

Resulting from this combination of factors, congestion and road safety have become a big concern. As an example, it can take up to one hour to travel 5 km on market days when driving across the main arterial roads from the airport to the city center.

Addressing these bottlenecks are essential for poverty reduction in the city. If properly managed, cities can be engines of productivity and economic growth—but this can only happen with a functional urban transport system that efficiently connects residents to jobs, services, and opportunities.

The first step in improving transport conditions is to gather accurate information. Where do people go and for what purpose? What mode of transport do they use? Which are the most congested roads and at what times? What are the main routes and stops of TapTaps (Haiti’s informal transit)? This data is essential for adequately planning infrastructure and policies in urban mobility. In a low-capacity and fragile environment, however, data is often scarce or non-existent.

To address these gaps, the World Bank Transport team is supporting the Municipality of Cap Haitien and the Ministry of Transport and Public Works (MTPC) in developing an Urban Mobility Study for Cap Haitien. As part of this work, the team is making extensive use of digital and disruptive technologies to gather information that had never been collected in Haiti until now :

  1. Tracking people. Why, Where and How? Inspired by a previous WB project in Tanzania, and building on the work of the World Bank Poverty and Urban teams in Cap Haitien, the project will carry out an Origin-Destination survey by following 1200 men and women for a month around the city. To achieve this, the WB is working with Mobile-Market-Monitor to adapt their app to the Haitian context and ensure a data-collection strategy that meets the challenges of low-capacity settings. Through the participant’s entries on the app, the project will be able to determine the modes, purpose and places of travel for the people in Cap Haitien. The success of the data collection exercise will depend on the close monitoring by local surveyors.   

  2. Tracking vehicles: Congestion and traffic flows. The team will use satellite imagery to analyze the patterns and causes of traffic congestion across the city, and will use drone videos to understand the traffic challenges affecting key intersections. This exercise, made possible through machine-learning algorithms, will allow us to measure the volumes of pedestrians, motorbike taxis, trucks, and cars in heavy congested streets at peak and off-peak hours, among other metrics.

  3. The city and its spatial extent. To complement this work, the project will use Open-Street-Map to do a spatial characterization of the city. Many of the maps for Haiti were completed as the result of local engagement after the 2010 earthquake. Today, they are still being maintained and updated with lots of information on cities’ urban amenities to inform analytical work.

  4. Transport modes. Finally, on the supply-side, thanks to the Data Collaboratives initiative, and enthused by an innovative project in Freetown, the team is working with WIMT to obtain the first complete GTFS formatted-maps of the TapTap routes in Cap Haitien. A group of motivated students, and the local community working in the tourism sector will make this mapping possible. Using mobile phones to map all routes and gather other information, such as fares and bus frequency, we will develop the first GTFS maps of TapTaps in Haiti.

Building on this data, we will be able to learn how people move and for what purposes, what services are available to commuters and at what price, which will allow local decisionmakers and development partners to make much more informed decisions about transport investments and policy. This blog is the first installment a series of posts documenting the outcomes of the projects and the lessons learned along the way. Stay tuned for some regular updates on our results, successes, and challenges!


The Urban Mobility Study for Cap Haitien is being financed in part by the Quality of Infrastructure Investment Fund.


Nathalie Picarelli

Senior Economist, World Bank

Malaika Becoulet

Transport Specialist, World Bank

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