Inspired by their home town of Cape Town, South Africa, Work.Life London Fields members WhereIsMyTransport turn movement data into accessible open mobility for both cities and citizens. We chatted with co-founder Devin de Vries to find out more.
Hi Devin! Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to start WhereIsMyTransport?
We started WhereIsMyTransport because we were tired of not being able to access public transport information in South Africa. But this process was actually inspired by the fact that during university, the shuttle my co-founder and I used to get around was quite often late, or didn’t turn up at all. After first trying to make our own app solve this problem, we realised that what many emerging cities really need is a platform that facilitates all the different ways people want to access transport information. This includes informally-run transport modes, which are used by the majority of people in emerging regions. WhereIsMyTransport was born – and we’ve been working ever since to empower people to get where they want to go.
For the uninitiated, what does your platform do?
WhereIsMyTransport focuses on the challenge of getting the right information about mobility to the people who need it, when and where they need it. Rather than provide a single app that commuters can use, we think that every city should have apps that speak to that local context. So we created the WhereIsMyTransport platform – an open digital platform for integrated transport data. We capture and connect data from all the transport services in a city—whether they’re formal or informal, public or private—into this platform to provide information on those services to the people who need it.
How are public transport operators able to take the data you collect and use this in an effective way?
As soon as we have verified data for a particular service in a city, it is available through our platform. Cities or agencies that wish to adopt the platform work with us to get the data in, as we’ve done in seven cities in South Africa and other African cities, and then we work with them to create the information services they want. We also make it very easy for anyone who has accurate transport data, whether they’re a citizen enthusiast or a Transport Authority, to upload it into the platform and get started. The communications aspect of our platform will be rolling out in South Africa soon, with transport agencies instantly sending messages to their riders which update their journey results in real time.
In what ways does this information go further in terms of influencing potential new infrastructure or investments?
One of the reasons we created this platform is that many cities are looking for ways to disseminate data to their citizens. But they’re also looking to learn about the way people are using public transport too. So centralising movement data into our platform also enables our other products, including reporting and analytics. The findings these products bring to the table can then go on to influence operators and cities, in areas such as routes, frequency, or infrastructure investment decisions.
What would you say your biggest success has been so far? And have you faced any challenges with bringing your tech into emerging economies?
Our biggest success has been the depth of data in our platform. Right now, it contains formal transport information for the South African cities of Johannesburg, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, George, and East London. It also contains data from Cairo and Dar es Salaam. The platform also is the first publicly available API with multimodal journey planning for informally-run transit modes, starting with the matatu system in Nairobi, Kenya. And we have even more partner projects in the pipeline – meaning even more data on the way. The biggest challenge for us is connecting to the right decision makers in cities and moving through that process. Being a B2G startup is pretty unusual, and each city is different, so we’ve adopted some specialised practices to keep us flexible in our engagement process and make sure we’re reaching the right stakeholders in our ecosystem.
You’ve recently released a Developer Portal with the aim of unlocking the potential of cities throughout Africa. Can you tell us a little bit more about how this portal will achieve that?
Anyone can use our platform to develop an app, web tool, digital sign, or any other way of getting information to people. This could be individual developers, but is typically organisations and companies that work alongside cities. Our Developer Portal is the place you go to get started, and it provides all the information any of these groups could need to kick things off. As well as being the place where users get their access keys, there’s a comprehensive guide on how to build on our platform. It makes it as easy as possible, and it’s free to get started.
What are you most proud of?
We are incredibly proud of our platform—it is the culmination of over a year’s work for the entire team and represents innovation in the transport space on so many levels. After nearly seven years of learning from our ecosystem and trying out various approaches, we have finally launched a solution to the underlying issues so many members of the transport system face. For myself, however, I am most proud of our team, here in the London office and in Cape Town. They are so committed and passionate, and that is where the greatest value for WhereIsMyTransport lies.
We’ve loved having you as one of the founding members at Work.Life in London Fields. Can you tell us why you chose our space, and how have you been finding it so far?
We were looking for a space that was light, comfortable and accessible, and in a great part of London. The London Fields Work.Life office gives us all of this. All the basics like fast wifi and meeting rooms are included, so we can easily and reliably Skype down to the Cape Town team, plus we get the pleasure of working in a great neighbourhood that’s close enough to both the bustle of the city and our homes!
How can people join the WhereIsMyTransport platform and find out more?
Those interested in developing on the platform—an app, a web widget, etc—can get started instantly through our Developer Portal.
Image courtesy of WhereIsMyTransport – from left to right, Chris King, Devin de Vries, Dave New.