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Towards a transition in ‘informal public transport’

Transitioning the policy debate, stakeholder relations and Informal Public Transport Services for the achievement of climate mitigation, affordable mobility, employment and safety.


This Routemap and knowledge resource is the principal output of the TRANSITIONS applied research project, funded by UKAID through the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office under the High Volume Transport Applied Research Programme, managed by DT-Global.


It is informed by a literature review, over 30 interviews with stakeholders and two regional workshops, more than 7,800 passenger opinion survey responses, as well as fuel consumption surveys and GPS tracking of more than 150 IPT vehicles. The Routemap also draws upon the expertise of the TRANSITIONS partners: Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Mozambique Mobility Observatory, Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre (SLURC), Transitec, J Turner Transport and Social Development Consultancy, University of Cape Town (UCT) and Vectos – part of SLR.

On this page you can work through an introductory course on the TRANSITIONS project and online knowledge resource; browse an overview of the Routemap; and hear more about the High Volume Transport programme.

Introductory course on TRANSITIONS and the Routemap

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Overview of the Routemap

Informal Public Transport (IPT)[1]  has a fundamental role to play in providing sustainable, mass transit in the rapidly growing cities of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). A concerted effort is therefore required to understand how stakeholders can best work together to deliver a transition to low carbon, affordable and safe mobility services. Consider the following:

  • There are an estimated 42,000 IPT minibuses, providing services along more than 1,800 known routes, within the metropolitan areas of the five TRANSITIONS case cities. The scale of the IPT sector across Africa is vast.

  • Modal shares of IPT services are typically in the order of 50% or more, as they provide for the daily mobility needs of low and medium-income groups in particular.

  • Where formal Public Transport schemes are implemented (Bus Rapid Transit projects have often experienced long delays), they will still serve only a fraction of the population, hence the role of IPT in substantial portions of a metropolitan area will remain for the foreseeable future.

  • The population of Africa doubled to 1.3 billion during the period 1990 to 2020 and is projected to increase by a further 1.2 billion by 2050. What happens in urban transport in African cities over the next two decades will therefore be a key determinant of global climate change outcomes.

While IPT provides beneficial transport services, it is acknowledged that there are major problems to be overcome in order that the greatest opportunities can be realised:

  • In the majority of countries, IPT operators rely on imported mini- and midi-buses, many of which are ‘end of life’ vans that are then converted for passenger use. TRANSITIONS found that emissions tend to be (at least) double that of EU targets for the period 2020-2024, with fuel consumption also double or triple the amounts in manufacturer’s specifications. The implications for local air pollution and carbon emissions are clear.

  • Despite being ‘relatively’ affordable, IPT services are unsubsidised and subject to the global pressures of fuel price increases, hence dissatisfaction with fare levels was found to be common (around one third to a half of passengers surveyed in four case cities).

  • IPT drivers do not generally benefit from fixed salaries or social insurance packages. The ‘target’ and commission-based payment systems, which typically apply, incentivise competition for passengers on the road and result in dangerous driving behaviour.

The TRANSITIONS project set itself the dual challenge of: seeking to better understand the IPT sector; and to present a Routemap for how public authorities in SSA, IPT unions and associations, and the international community can work together towards improvements. The TRANISTIONS Routemap guidance document and website bring together the findings from a literature review, stakeholder interviews, passenger opinion surveys and vehicle fuel consumption surveys, in order to present the following:

  • A proposed ‘route’ towards improved IPT services, comprising a sequence of stages that could provide the basis for a smaller pilot project or larger, cost-effective programme for affordable, collective mobility.

  • A series of self-appraisal questions, that will assist practitioners in understanding the current situation in their city and degree of preparedness to move forward through the steps of the Routemap.

  • Provision of a background knowledge and a learning environment on key themes and actions that can be taken in relation to IPT, combined with comparative analysis of the situation in the TRANSITIONS case cities: Accra, Cape Town, Freetown, Kumasi and Maputo.

The central arrow or spine of the Routemap Key Diagram shows the main steps of an approach to working collaboratively with the IPT sector:

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This sequence of Route Markers are, in essence, about getting the basics right, and while on the surface may seem simplistic, below we explain why each is so important. The Route Markers are arranged in a logical sequence, with emphasis first on actions where a public authority could take the lead, followed by those where the IPT industry also take on greater responsibilities.

Route Marker 1 – Objectives & Plans: What objectives and plans have been agreed by the IPT industry and public authorities?

It is evident from the TRANSITIONS research that there are numerous potential causes of mistrust between public authorities and the IPT sector, which can result in public authorities seeking to remove and replace IPT. In order to counter this, there is a need for public authorities to recognise the value and benefits the IPT sector delivers and potential for cost-effective improvements. For the IPT sector itself there is an opportunity to benefit from better infrastructure and vehicle investment opportunities, as a result of engaging positively with public authorities. Reaching agreement on joint objectives for the future role of IPT will be an important first step.

Conclusions: Promoting a transition in IPT

During the course of the TRANSITIONS project it has become apparent that there this is increasing recognition of the vital role that IPT plays in metropolitan areas across SSA, and a growth in momentum amongst the international community to find ways to work with the sector to provide low carbon, affordable and safe mobility. The research team has sought to contribute to this agenda, bringing together multiple sources of information in the TRANSITIONS Routemap and Cross-City Comparison report and website, providing a collective resource and learning environment that can be further developed in the future.

While projects that have involved working proactively with the IPT sector are limited, there are neverthless valuable examples to learn from. These include measures such as: the digital mapping of networks in Accra and Nairobi, Minibus-taxi lanes and trials of hybridity regulation in Cape Town; the fleet renewal schemes undertaken in Dakar and Cape Town; as well as reorganisation and professionalisation of IPT associations as SACCOs in Kenya.


These case studies highlight that the desire to work proactively with the sector is far from new, and further long-term studies of the evolution and results of these initiatives would be beneficial.

During the work on the Routemap, project partners have identified matters that will require further research and development of solutions, including:

  • Reviewing the organisational role and structure of unions, associations and cooperatives, taking into account their current competencies and potential to deliver training and support business development.

  • Professionalisation of the IPT sector will involve looking again at business cases with stakeholders, and examining to what extent fuel efficiency and operational efficiency can increase profitability.

  • Basic information such as the sheer number of vehicles involved in IPT operations are currently lacking, and this would help strengthen the overall case for investment to achieve reductions in GHG emissions and local pollution.

  • A further challenge arising relates to how supply and demand on IPT routes can be better managed, while also seeking to ensure that appropriate service levels can be provided in less profitable off-peak periods. This matter also calls into question whether financial support (subsidies) for the IPT sector could be possible.

Workshops undertaken in Accra and Cape Town during the TRANSITIONS project revealed a strong appetite amongst public authority and IPT representatives for international exchange and further learning, in order that these and other outstanding questions can be answered, and so that the opportunities presented by improvements to existing mobility service providers can be realised.

About the HVT Applied Research Programme

This research was funded by UKAID through the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office under the High Volume Transport Applied Research Programme (HVT.)


HVT is a seven-year, £18 million investment by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) aiming to make road and rail transport greener, safer and more accessible, affordable and inclusive. The programme is delivered through a Programme Management Unit led by the international development consultancy DT-Global.


  • The programme’s priority areas of work include:

  •  Inclusive transport

  • Climate change mitigation and adaptation

  • Affordable and efficient transport

  • COVID-19 response and recovery

  • Capacity building

The HVT programme has published more than 150 research papers on original research giving insight, evidence, and recommendations for greener and more resilient transport. The programme also houses an impressive archive of previous FCDO research.

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