Using mobile phone data to analyse public transport demand in Dakar

In many African cities, transport estimation is a challenging task, as most municipalities do not conduct traffic counting regularly. The massive use of large scale flexible transport services which operate without scheduled timetable and restricted routes — known as paratransits — also complicates accurate demand estimations and forecasts.

Mobile phone data could thus offer a new alternative to generally expensive and time consuming data collection requirements. In Dakar, a recent study (Demissie, Phithakkitnukoon, Gomes and Bento, 2016) was conducted using people’s mobile phones as a proxy to infer travel demand and understand potentially new strategic routes and location for transport.

In Dakar, public transport was until the 1990s provided by a state company. Since 1998, public transport services have been coordinated by the executive council of urban transport (CETUD). A private public consortium, the Dakar Dem Dikk (DDD), as well as paratransits — know in Senegal as cars rapides –– then came to complement the CETUD to respond to the increasing transport demand in the capital city. This increasing travel demand is visible through “traffic congestion, accidents, parking difficulties, public transport inadequacy and environmental problems” (p:1).

 In order to evaluate the demand for public transport, the authors used mobile phone data as a proxy to understand travel patterns. The data was collected from a large mobile phone operator and combined with official data from public transport services. The patterns were created using cell tower locations and home addresses of the users.  

The results of the study show that in Dakar, only “25% of the urban transport [is] covered by motorized modes” (p:8). Some neighborhoods are particularly undeserved by transportation systems. The bulk of the data produced by the study authors should also help inform decisions on improving existing routes and potentially building new ones, through a better understanding of citizens’ travel patterns.

According to the authors, most of the efforts in Africa have historically been on inter-regional, inter-urban and rural transport sectors. They argue that it is time for a more comprehensive approach towards urban mobility and accessibility.

Article available from IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems Vol. 17, Issue: 9, Sept. 2016 . [sub required].

Photo credit: Toon van Dijk (Flickr).


Publication Type Journal Article
Publisher IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems
Year 2016
Author(s) Merkebe Getachew Demissie, Santi Phithakkitnukoon, Titipat Sukhvibul
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