Transport for Cairo, an urban mobility lab working on collecting transit data in Cairo, held an event on August 28th to mark the release of their data to the public.
The data collection efforts are part of “Digital Cairo”, a project that includes three organizations: Transport for Cairo, Takween for Integrated Development, and Digital Matatus. The project is funded by Expo Live, an innovation and partnership program launched by Expo 2020 Dubai. The program has an allocated fund of USD 100 million for the promotion of solutions that aim to improve lives of people. It is meant to act as an engine for innovation as well as support the development and transfer of new solutions.
Over the past 3 years, Transport for Cairo has been working on mapping formal and informal transportation routes in Cairo. This mapping exercise was undertaken through a daunting daily process, where team members would ride public transport modes, tracking each ride using GPS devices. A total of 216 unique routes have been mapped so far, a task that took over 450 hours to accomplish. A lot of the data collection took place in new urban communities as there is a strong need for information in these areas.
GIS and GTFS Data
The collected data is now available as GIS shapefiles and GTFS transit feeds for anyone to download off of the Transport for Cairo website.
GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) is a standard format for public transport data, providing the geographic information of each transport mode. It is the format used to supply data for multi-modal trip planning applications. This data includes the actual geographic path taken by the transit vehicles, as well as stops, fares and vehicle numbers and is typically stored in text files. The GTFS data was collected using GPS route tracking, where team members tracked bus and microbus routes while inputting stop locations by manually traversing the different routes.
The GPS data however, can be flawed. For example, areas that are prone to weaker phone signals such as near or under bridges, may not be mapped accurately. It is for this reason that the GPS data is imported into a Geographic Information System (GIS) tool. Transitioning to GIS data means that routes and stops can be layered on top of an actual map of the city for route verification. Minor edits are made to the routes so that they correspond to the actual roads. The end products are accurate GTFS transit feeds and GIS shapefiles, the latter providing a visual representation of the GTFS text.
The collected data can then be uploaded onto a trip planning tool (such as Open Trip Planner) whereby users can select an origin and destination, and the tool will provide them with all the possible itineraries, including details on where to make transfers as well as expected trip times.
While data collection was undertaken by a core team of four people, the Transport for Cairo team acknowledges that in the future, data can instead be crowdsourced through a mobile application. At the moment however, the group is not involved in developing a mobile application, although their data could be integrated into other public transit platforms. The data files have all been released under a Creative Commons license, meaning, anyone who wants to use it can do so, unless the data is needed for commercial purposes, then permission must be secured from the Transport for Cairo team.
One of the challenges that the team is facing is determining the best way to disseminate this data. As most public transport users in Cairo rely on oral communication to learn of possible transit options, a phone application might not garner much attention. A proposed alternative to a mobile application includes printed maps that would be placed at all bus stops.
Whether through an application or through a physical medium, the collected information will be particularly useful for those who don’t speak Arabic and are therefore unable to ask for directions. The maps could also prove beneficial for women who may choose to not ask for directions in unfamiliar places and rather rely on their own information. The maps are also arguably useful for those who are not well versed in public transport networks in Cairo and would like to educate themselves on how to move around the city without a private car.
The collected data is currently available at http://transportforcairo.com/data/.