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Affordable Mobility

Informal Public Transport provides a largely affordable, flexible form of urban mobility. Within the urban centres of Africa that are often dominated by the informal economy, it also provides an accessible and affordable form of urban logistics for the large number of traders, many of whom are women, and businesses. 



Flexibility provided by informal public transport and the interaction with the informal urban economy are key assets. For example, real time route deviations may provide the user with a more door to door service. A study of accessibility in Dar-Es-Salaam highlight this inter-connection, concluding that many of those, who travel regularly outside of their settlements, have more diverse, irregular and shifting mobility patterns related to various kinds of informal livelihood activities associated with trading, freelancing and small-scale businesses. [9]  A further study in the same city found that more than 70% of the households in Dar-es-Salaam who depend on informal livelihoods use the informal modes of transport such as minibuses, motorcycles and tricycles as their primary mode. [10]


The interaction between the informal urban economy and the informal transport system is also reflected in the need, as shown by a number of studies [11] (e.g. Turner & Kwakye, 1998; Joseph et al. 2020), for those engaged in such informal sector livelihoods to travel with goods. The majority of such passengers are women. The provision of both a passenger and small freight distribution service is a further benefit of informal public transport.


Comparison of situations and perspectives from the TRANSITIONS cities

Across the case study areas in the TRANSITIONS cities, informal public transport was predominately used by middle income and low income workers, particulary women who were involved in informal economy activities. In Accra,  57% of all respondents to the passenger opinion survey were found in the medium income bracket, though middle income women only made up 50% of female passengers and more low income women than men were found to be informal public transport users. In Kumasi, middle income earners formed the majority amongt women, low income earners were a majority amongst men. In Freetown and Maputo, the overwhelming majority (69% and 74% respectively) of respondents were in low income categories. In Cape Town, 52% of respondents fall into the low income bracket and 48% fall into the medium income bracket.

When interpreting the data, it is important to be mindful that the definitions of income groups do not allow for direct comparison across cities. Beyond the findings amongst the IPT operations studied in the TRANSITIONS project, there is a lack of statistically representative data on IPT users’, or indeed the general populations’, income levels at the city scale that allows income comparisons to be made across cities. There is, however, some national-level statistics compiled by the World Inequality Lab that shed light on the relative incomes, or spending power, of low- and lower middle-income earners. In Ghana, the bottom 50% of earners in the country have a share of 12.8% of national income, while the respective national income shares of the bottom 50% of income earners in Mozambique is 8.9%, in Sierra Leone is 17.3%, and in South Africa is 6.3% [12].


The results for respondents in Maputo was more balanced with approximately a third being unhappy, a third providing a neutral response, and a third being happy. In Mozambique, it is the City Council that sets the tariff levels for public transport services and the value of the rate is a matter of the utmost political and popular importance. In Freetown, a majority of respondents (58%) were unhappy with fares, with more women expressing dissatisfaction than men. In Cape Town, interestingly there was very little dissatification (10% of respondents) with fares, though even here more women than men were dissatisified. It is also worth highlighting that, of the five cities, Cape Town is the only case where public authorities do not engage in fare setting.

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This gradient of satisfaction observed may be related to the differences in overall income levels across the different countries and whilst labour costs for informal public transport may also be lower, operating costs affected on the global scale such as fuel, spare parts and vehicles may lead to fares in those cities being less affordable for those on lower income levels.    

Figure: Fare satisfaction in Accra and Cape Town (where 1 is very unhappy and 5 is very happy)

Figure: Income levels of respondents to the passenger opinion survey in Freetown

Levels of fare dissatisfaction was common across all TRANSITIONS cities and appears to be more concentrated amongst female respondents. This could be due to the lower levels of income women will have in many contexts even though they may be within the same income categories than men. In Accra and Kumasi, nearly half of respondents were unhappy or very unhappy and these proportions were greater amongst female respondents. 

Main findings and messages

People from low and middle income households appear to make up the overwhelming majority users of Informal Public Transport in cities across Sub Saharan Africa.

The relative balance between the income group of users appears to vary by the overall level of income of the city and the different levels of personal motorisation, with lower income users making up a greater proportion of users in higher-income cities and more motorised cities.

Users displayed low levels of satisfaction with fares and the affordability of Informal Public Transport, despite this being the lowest cost option available. IPT is a key means of transport for low income households and affordabilty of a very important concern in low-income urban settings.

Better understanding is needed of the proportions of household income spent on mobility and the mechanisms used (and implications of) IPT fare setting by public authorities.



9. Andreason and Moller-Jensen, 2017. Access to the city: Mobility patterns, transport and accessibility in peripheral settlements of Dar es Salaam. Journal of Transport Geography 62, 20-29

10. Joseph et al., 2020. Activity participation and perceptions on informal public transport and bus rapid transit in Dar es Salaam. Transportation Research Record 2674(11), pp. 573-583

11. Turner & Kwakye, 1998. Transport and survival strategies in a developing economy: case evidence from Accra, Ghana. Journal of Transport Geography 4(3), pp. 161-168

12. Chancel, L., Cogneau, D., Gethin, A., and Myczkowski, A. 2019. How Large Are African Inequalities? Towards Distributional National Accounts in Africa, 1990-2017, World Inequality Database Working Paper no. 2019/13.

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