Life in Lusaka can be terribly isolating. For this we can blame a lack of decent transportation options.
OK, maybe the reason is not transportation options in isolation: the urban form and safety concerns make living a walkable lifestyle essentially unfeasible, if not simply undesirable, for most of the people who would be reading this blog. With limitations to the extent to which walking can get one where s/he is going, and cycling seen as a bizarre and subjugated activity, one quickly turns attention to motorized options. For many this means private automobiles – either one’s own car or “booked taxis”. Either of these options does help provide freedom, but does so with great expense and sometimes hassle (i.e., that of buying and maintaining a vehicle, or constantly finding cab drivers to haggle with). Furthermore, many of us have arrived in Lusaka knowing that other options are possible, and missing the car(e)-free lifestyles that we have elsewhere.
Rising from the ashes of those other options is Lusaka’s public transport “system”. Described in detail elsewhere, the system is chaotic and intimidating. But on the other side of the coin, to the casual observer it seems to be absolutely everywhere in the city. It’s everywhere when you don’t need it, but the story is not as clear when you are at a point A trying to make it to a point B…
It is a formidable barrier for a new rider to plan a trip – or even board a minibus without indication of destination – since there is no system-level information to explain how the puzzle pieces fit together. Indeed, even lifelong Lusakans and fluent Nyanja-speakers hesitate at the idea of venturing into unfamiliar terrain. This blog, and the project it is presenting, aim to change that situation.
At its core, this is a project to map public transport in Lusaka. By public transport, I am referring to any vehicle that one can ride by paying “bus fare” (to use a local term). For the most part this refers to the ubiquitous minibus, usually painted light blue, but increasingly with an orange stripe along the side; but also to larger buses and shared taxis.
Through my own experience I have discovered that one can get to within walking distance of just about anywhere using public transport, but it is not always the best choice: many destinations near my home in Roma are reached far more easily on foot than by trying to take a bus. Furthermore, the longstanding idea that every trip requires a connection in “Town” is becoming increasingly obsolete; during my four months in Lusaka I have found numerous routes that allow me to connect points across the city without having to pass through the centre. In essence, this project will allow public transport riders in Lusaka a mechanism to share information about their experiences – as represented through maps – so that we can all come closer to understanding this combined total of buses, minibuses, and shared taxis as a system.
It befuddles me that such a map does not already exist for this city of over 2 million inhabitants. So it goes. After numerous wildly unsuccessful trips to Lusaka City Council, and the disappearance of the unconfident route lines on the only mapping attempt I have ever seen, I have come to the conclusion that the only choices are to a) stop caring, or b) create that map. I have chosen to pursue option (b) and am using this blog as the communications’ base for it.
If it is to be done well, this is a project that will require the participation of many. With a proliferation of user-generated content on the internet, there are undoubtedly platforms that can facilitate the project. I know a bit about these, but could use some help. After all, I am no tech genius: in fact, you are reading the first post of my first blog. Beyond this, it will take many of us to actually figure out where those public transit vehicles go and where they stop – essential bits of info if we want to figure out where they can take us.
This project will obviously be of lesser necessity if someone is able to actually find an existing map (in which case this blog post will have been of ENORMOUS value in surfacing said elusive map). I am maintaining hope that such a map does indeed exist, but this has not stopped me from starting to explore platforms and map the routes that I know.
If you are reading this and:
a) are interested in contributing to the map, or
b) have ideas about how this project could be pursued or improved, or
c) have connections in the “Lusaka public transport world” who you think should be involved in this, or
d) Actually know of an existing map,
then please touch base immediately. You can do so through the reply section of this post, or by contacting me through the feedback form of the “About” section of the blog.
Otherwise, look forward to my next post within a few days.