Digital passenger services
While many of the improvements called for by informal transport users require hard investments in vehicles or infrastructure (and business model overhauls), the use of digital technologies could open new avenues to transform services and improve passengers’ experience, without requiring very high capital expenditure. This section presents some of the options that could be considered, based on the needs and opportunities identified in our five case cities, as well as documented experience in other countries on the continent.
Overview of types of actions
This category of actions encompasses aspects related to driver ranking and reviews, provision of passenger information (through network mapping and journey planning), payment systems, and ride-hailing solutions.
The table identifies the main types of actions that could be undertaken.
The main constraints and opportunities associated with these interventions are as follows:
Reliance on private sector initiative: most of the digital passenger services presented above are dependent on the private sector’s appetite to invest in the development of these solutions. This means that there must be a viable business case associated with the development of these services. As they are likely to generate new costs, these must be compensated by an equivalent increase in revenue (either through increased demand and fare revenue, or through new revenue streams such as advertisement for instance). The implementation of cashless payment systems, for instance, could be difficult if transaction costs deteriorate an already fragile equilibrium. Data collection and mapping efforts could be financed directly by the public sector, but this might not be sustainable in cities with more limited budgetary capacities.
Address users’ needs: it is unclear whether actions aimed at improving passenger information are a priority for users in the cities that we surveyed. Most respondents appear to be regular users of their informal transport route and may not require maps or journey planners for their usual trips. However, there is a possibility that latent demand exists, and that some prospective travellers are not taking public trips because they are not aware of the existence of route to their destination.
Resistance from the industry: leapfrogging from an artisanal mode of operation to a digital business could be difficult to accept for the informal transport industry as jobs could be threatened as a result of this transition. The development of cashless payment systems, for instance, could mean that conductors are no longer needed onboard vehicles. This would therefore require a retraining plan to guarantee that conductors do not become unemployed. Since the informal transport industry is a large source of employment for workers without formal qualifications, the social implications of a digital transition should not be underestimated.
Opportunity to create a new market space. Because of the queueing system in place at terminals, whereby passengers are forced to board the first vehicle in line for their destination, individual operators cannot use the quality/comfort of their vehicle as a differentiating factor to capture higher market shares. As a result, there is potentially a segment of users that would be willing to pay higher fares to travel in a more comfortable/safer vehicle that remains unserved. This constitutes and area of improvement that should be explored.
Experience and perspectives from the TRANSITIONS cities
Based on the results of the passenger survey, the following observations can be made regarding the opportunity to encourage digital passenger services in our five cities:
Feedback mechanism for passengers: passenger satisfaction varies importantly across cities (low overall in Freetown, while relatively high in Cape Town), but complaints about interactions with vehicle crews – and conductors in particular – have been recorded in all five cities. Passengers feel that they are taken hostage by crews because they are dependent on their service but have no redress mechanism in case of a problem. Using digital technology to allow passengers to share some feedback directly with the operator group executives or the owner of the vehicle could therefore contribute to addressing this frustration. To be accepted by crews, such a review mechanism should however not be perceived as a punitive measure but associated with internal capacity building efforts.
Prevention of harassment: in Freetown, 20% of IPT users reported having been victims of some form harassment (further information here). Unsurprisingly, female travellers are overrepresented amongst victims. Digital technologies could play a role in reporting and publicizing this phenomenon. First, incidents could be reported electronically to the authorities and the operator group responsible for the service or terminal where they happen. Second, a dedicated platform or account on social media could be set up to publicize the nature and scale of this problem, and raise awareness amongst the travelling public in order for inappropriate behaviours to no longer be tolerated.
Some operational improvement (or at least information). Depending on specific city and route circumstances, waiting times and pick up and drop off points can be sources of dissatisfaction for passengers. In Cape Town and Maputo, for instance, passengers reported under-supply of vehicles and waiting times at terminals as an important source of concern. Although it might be difficult to decrease headway due to operational and economic constraints, there could be an opportunity to introduce real-time information systems about waiting time at terminals to allow users to plan their trip more efficiently and avoid wasting time.