A people's industry: Q&A with Devin de Vries

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Public transport is often portrayed as a sector of heavy transport modes and high-end technologies, but much more importantly, public transport is a people’s industry. From front-line employees to engineers and high-level executives, our sector is driven by the passion and determination of individuals to provide the best services possible to passengers. Our new web series ‘A people’s industry’ aims at introducing the leaders that are driving public transport forward.

Our next leader to be interviewed is Devin de Vries, CEO, WhereIsMyTransport, a start-up company providing data and journey planning services in Cape Town, South Africa.

What is the most important change related to public transport you have witnessed since you started working in the sector?

Informally run transport is being increasingly recognised as a valuable contribution to mobility networks in African cities that must be integrated with formal systems to deliver an effective movement network that meets user needs. This means a greater emphasis from a planning perspective on formal and informal systems integration and a deeper focus on how these systems can better serve users, namely through technological interventions such as communicating service alerts and providing navigation tools.

What is the leading force of innovation in your organisation?

Collaboration is key. We are able to map seemingly chaotic transportation networks in the world’s most rapidly urbanising cities with a minimum of resources, clean the data, and convert into the formats that planners, operators, businesses, and technology developers need. We collaborate with a great number of local partners and investing in those relationships has been crucial in all our data collection projects.

What would be the most important challenge facing the industry in the years to come?

Rapidly urbanising cities are faced with challenges of sprawl, poverty and lack of access to public goods. Public transport is key to responding to these challenges, but faced with budget constraints and limited institutional capacity, cities have limited means of delivering public transport that is physically, financially, and economically accessible for their diverse populations. Where the city is unable to provide these services, the private sector can fill the gap. On-demand platforms are becoming major factors in cities, but it’s important to regulate them in a way that enables innovation, while ensuring connectivity across all modes.

What would you tell world leaders to encourage them in developing more public transport?

Public transport is crucial for unlocking access to opportunities for people in their city. Delivering effective systems is key to ensuring upward social and economic mobility while also mitigating health and environmental risks. However, delivering accessible public transport in contexts already rich in privately run services requires a deep consideration of whom and how these services currently meet the population’s needs. With this level of insight, public leaders can make the knowledgeable, contextualised interventions needed to ensure that their urban mobility network is uniquely positioned to enable citizens to access the full potential of their city.

Public transport is crucial for unlocking access to opportunities for people in their city.

If you had one piece of advice to give to someone entering the sector, what would it be?

Emerging cities are not a case of “one-size-fits-all”. Unique challenges demand unique solutions depending on the context, stakeholder involved, and capacity to deliver the solution. It has always been our goal to enable these solutions rather than determine them through our platform for integrated public transport data, enabling a myriad of endpoints and use cases to be built on top as needed. Flexible solutions are the only way that fast-paced cities can anticipate and match the unprecedented rate of changing they are currently facing.

What are you most proud of since working in public transport?

Only a few years ago, informally run transport was often regarded as a system to be erased or replaced rather than a critical part of the city that serves a valuable role in connecting citizens with opportunities. That attitude has since shifted.
We are proud to be a strong voice in recognising the role of informal transport and putting it on the public stage.

Stay tuned for our next Q&A in the 'A People's Industry' series!

Catch up on the previous interview in the series!


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