After about one month of preparation I have amassed sufficient information to create a basic route map of Lusaka’s public transport network. In this post I will describe some of the key elements of the map and identify the ways I see the map being useful to riders.
The city-wide perspective granted by this map is primarily due to information provided by the Zambia Institute for Policy Analysis & Research (ZIPAR). As part of their research to inform this policy brief, ZIPAR investigators used GPS units to monitor the movements of a number of minibuses. The analysis of that data was a chore that would merit its own blog post, but one conclusion was the identification of heavily traveled pathways, many of which resemble the likely pathways for the route names that we are accustomed to hearing the call boys shout at the stations and stops around Lusaka. I have combined this information from ZIPAR with that of my own riding experience to create the map.
There are some limitations to the ZIPAR findings, such as only noting those routes that originate or terminate in Town, and identifying routes according to the frequency of travel along given lines without having a way to note the route names that the operators were communicating at the time. The effect is that there could be important routes that are not included here, or an inconsistency between the name that we have posted on the map and the actual pathway followed by the vehicles that claim to be operating on that route. These are problems that can be addressed through feedback from riders.
I created this map using “the new” GoogleMaps. This version has an important upgrade over what is now called Classic GoogleMaps: the possibility of creating layers. In my previous attempts to map the network I was frustrated by my desire to present various types of information without being able to highlight the most useful elements while making other information optional. With the allowance of at least three layers I was able to add additional levels of detail that should only appear when readers want them, while leaving the map of base routes as most prominent.
Blog readers presented a compelling case as to why I should use OpenStreetMap as the mapping platform. Despite studying the mapping process for hours I was not able to make that route that I had mapped appear on the “Transit layer” of the Lusaka OpenStreetMap or the public transport focused derivative OpenBusMap. In the absence of further technical guidance I will therefore not be using this platform.
I made a brief attempt to map using GeoCommons but quickly aborted that mission when I realized that I could not easily figure it out through self-teaching.
This map currently has three layers:
1) Base routes
This is intended to be information that is broadly useful to many riders and should be the most prominently visible. The base routes that I have identified here are the ones that I am confident operate at a high frequency throughout the day, every day.
Almost all of these routes service Town and in most cases operate from more than one of the four terminals there. In these cases the route is named exclusively by its outer terminus. In the instances that a route does not service Town – for example, the route running between Mutendere and the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) – the route name includes both of the common extremities and a directional arrow made using standard characters. The example above is thus “Mutendere Hospital,” with the arrow indicating that the route runs in both directions.
2) Secondary and limited service routes
My daily travels usually include trips on routes that are not among the base routes mentioned above. These are routes that do not run frequently, or all day, or every day. Keeping these routes separate from the base routes leaves that map less cluttered and user-friendly, yet showing these lesser-known routes is of great value on a map since by definition there are fewer people who can provide information about them.
In principle secondary routes are those for which there is often service, but it is not frequently available at all times. Limited service routes are those that are available only at very specific times. Secondary and limited service routes are distinguished by line thickness; with secondary routes thicker than limited service ones. Both of these are indicated by lines that are thinner than those used for the base routes.
At this stage I have only marked a few secondary and limited service routes that I am familiar with, primarily to see the effect on the map. I like it, and if the feedback remains positive I will continue to add to this visual directory of lesser-known routes.
For a rider who is planning a trip on an unfamiliar with a route, it is information on the stops that are most valuable. The main difficulty of mapping the stops, however, is their number: it would be extremely difficult to identify them all, and if someone did this the map would be overwhelmed by that information. At this stage I have simply identified a few stops that I am familiar with as an experiment to see how this layer could work. I will likely pursue, abandon, or modify this effort based on feedback.
I should note that GoogleMaps already has some public transport stops on its base map of Lusaka. In some rare cases (such as on Great East Road), the stops are accurately placed, named, and comprehensive for the routes that use them. The vast majority of stops are not indicated, those that are indicated are often unnamed or misnamed, and no stop is linked to route information that would indicate where someone could possibly travel from that point.
Using the map
Unfortunately, on its own this map does not suffice as a riders’ guide for the uninitiated. As presented, this map takes for granted that someone viewing it is comfortable with the logic of a decentralized network that is micro-managed by independent operators. This logic has direct implications on the seemingly erratic fare structure, vehicle speed and routing (including deviations decided en route), and the pattern of vehicles sitting immobile and mostly empty at some stops, before then blowing through other stops with a full load of passengers.
Regular riders in Lusaka – or in cities with similar systems – are so accustomed with the above logic that my writing it down would be completely uninteresting to them. By contrast, those unfamiliar with this logic would be overwhelmed by the amount of explanation required to make it explicit. I am willing to pursue the exercise of developing this type of explanation (or finding one and linking to it) if there are requests from readers for it. Otherwise I shall continue to focus on building and modifying the map according to the information that I know but have yet to add, and the feedback that I receive.