Measuring walkability in the global South: applications in Cape Town and Delhi

Context of Transport Climate Action

Policy makers and transportation planners are dealing with rapid urbanisation in emerging global cities and the concept of sustainable transport systems is gaining traction as they look for solutions to their challenges. In the past, professionals in the transportation industry have often looked at technology or policy solutions such as improvements in the fuel efficiency of vehicles and associated reductions in emissions. However, a search for more sustainable and equitable transportation alternatives includes promoting public and non-motorised transport as a solution especially for the developing world.

With the current increases in motorisation levels in emerging global cities (especially from motorcycles and 2nd hand cars), tools are required to improve our understanding of the infrastructure, safety and security barriers to using public transport.

Description

This project funded by the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations (VREF) makes use of mobile phone technology in the collection of user perceptions of the walking environment along the routes that pedestrians use to access and egress public transport. The access to and from public transport may be a barrier to more people using it, favouring the door-to-door options of private motorised vehicular transport.

This information helps to build a better picture of the walkability challenges from the perspective of the public transport user and helps to identify the barriers to access in the transportation system. This in turn means that the Transportation Planning Authorities can implement changes that respond to real needs. This can aid in efforts to retain public transport ridership in emerging global cities, thereby helping to contain GHG emissions.

An Android mobile phone application was designed to allow public transport users to give ratings of: Safety, Security, Infrastructure and Comfort levels along pedestrian routes to public transport. Through the use of clustering algorithms, hotspots can now be identified in the four dimensions to assist in the interpretation of the various, route and point-based, assessments by the users.

Users can also submit photos and audio reports as part of their assessments. With the huge scale of the task of redesigning movement networks leading to public transport in many developing countries, pictures and voice notes taken by public transport users showing the extreme conditions can support lobbying efforts for the reallocation of funds and prioritisation of non-motorised transport projects.

The application is set-up so that the user can define the dimensions and rating levels for the application of interest using an easy-to-use Microsoft Excel interface.

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Implementation

The project has been undertaken by the University of Cape Town’s Department of Civil Engineering, in South Africa, working in conjunction with the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT Delhi), in India.

The mobile phone application has been piloted at 6 public transport stations/stops in Cape Town and New Delhi. Information on the use of the app were collected by asking public transport users at stations to use the it for their egress trip initially. These pilots have formed part of a ‘proof of concept’ study, evaluating how the application performs under field conditions, as well as improving the robustness of the analysis framework.

One of the initial outcomes at a technical level includes issues with the mobile phone networks themselves. Mobile phone penetration levels in the developing world are generally very high, however, cell phone networks suffer from congestion, which can affect the triangulation ability of cell phones. As a result, it is not possible to take advantage of using cell phones everywhere or to leverage the cellphone, Wi-Fi and GPS networks together, in determining locations. In order to avoid these issues, for now, only the mobile phone GPS chips are used in determining location.

Benefits

It is crucial that the high levels of walking and the use of public transport is retained in the developing world. However as income levels rise, people shift from public transport if its access and egress are not convenient or safe.

In addition it is impossible for planning authorities to be able to check all access and egress routes to public transport, and having those that use them do this can be both more effective but also save significantly on costs.

Therefore, with cities in developing countries looking to introduce integrated public transport systems that prioritize pedestrian access and egress to public transport, data will be required to support the redevelopment of pedestrian movement networks, which the Walkability App collects. Allowing users to give input on the challenges they face will also support a user-centric approach to finding solutions,, and ensure that interventions respond to actual needs rather than to other planning priorities.

Potential for scaling up

Currently the application is in beta-form and access in closed. However, the vision for 2016 is to finalise its initial development and share it on app stores but allow the general public to independently contribute to this effort. This will require the development of an iOS (Apple smart phone) version of the application, as it is currently only an Android application.

We are also considering making the application more accessible with the use of pictograms. Technical language, and differences in the interpretation of terms that may be used in everyday language still pose challenges and visual cues would help to address some of these.

The Smartphone technology required to implement this project is already in the hands of many users, also in developing countries, while the database and administration requirements can be managed with increased scale. Furthermore, the technology is simple enough for citywide deployment by for example Transportation Planning Authorities to support active civic engagement. Hence, in our view there is a lot of potential for scaling up.

In areas where smartphone ownership levels are low, solutions such as those used in the pilot studies can be used by surveyors to get the information.

PROJECT INFORMATION

Location:

Cape Town, South Africa; New Delhi, India

Start:

2015

Finish:

On-going

Tags:

South Africa, India, Mitigation, Walking, Technology

Organizer/s:

Mark Zuidgeest,Mark Zuidgeest, Banele Wasswa, Marianne Marianne Vanderschuren, Geetam Tiwari (IIT Delhi). Funding: Volvo Research and Educational Foundations (VREF)

Contact/s:

Mark Zuidgeest, mark.zuidgeest@uct.ac.za

“Here the footpaths are pretty bad,
since they are mostly being encroached. This is why pedestrians have to walk on the road, which exacerbates traffic. [ … ] auto vehicles park everywhere, leaving no space for the pedestrians to walk anywhere….”
Voice message P. Vihar, male, 18-29, recorded while using the App