How Dubai's Expo Live aims to improve transport across Africa

Expo 2020’s $100m fund to help project to improve urban mobility in emerging cities

Mohamed Momtaz Hegazy, founder and director, Transport for Cairo.

Expo Live was a promise that Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum made when the emirate was bidding for Expo 2020, and he has dedicated a $100m fund to support projects with innovative, creative solutions to pressing challenges around the world – helping to improve people’s lives, preserve the planet, or both.

The programme has an allocation of up to $100,000 per project, as well as expert advice and the opportunity to share their ideas with a global audience.

Expo Live projects look for solutions across 14 different sectors, including agriculture, education, environment, employment, energy and healthcare as organisers look for projects that would not reach their full potential without its support.

In the first of a three-part series of articles, Arabian Business talks exclusively to Mohamed Momtaz Hegazy, founder and director, Transport for Cairo about the company, which provides data, tools and research to improve urban mobility in emerging cities, primarily in Africa.

He also talks about the assistance from Expo Live and what it means to be part of the global showcase event.

Tell me about the project? When was it set up? How many people are involved? Where does it operate?

We are a team of 12 people from very different backgrounds, academic and in life, based in the Maadi district in Cairo. Transport for Cairo (TfC) started out in 2015 as a project and has since then transitioned to a consultancy company. In our five years of operation, we have mapped the informal public transport of Cairo, Kampala and other cities; and concluded 25 sustainable mobility projects all over Africa.

Why was it set up? What issue(s) does it address? How big is this problem/issue?

TfC was inspired by the Digital Matatus project, which mapped all the Matatu bus routes in Nairobi, Kenya. We thought: ‘We need to do this for Cairo, which is five times bigger than Nairobi.’ In August 2015, we rode the first bus and mapped the first route, and by 2019 we had taken 46,000 kilometres in trips through 602 unique routes to map all bus and microbus routes in the greater Cairo region.

TfC was founded to tackle the complex, ever-changing state of transportation in developing cities. While tech innovations in mobility have changed cities, they have only focused on direct service provision (i.e. Uber, Careem, SWVL), leaving a market gap in solutions that help the informal transport sector to widen. For the two billion commuters in developing countries, we aim to answer this question: How do we transition the informal transportation sector?

What is the mission of the organisation? Who is it designed to help?

Transport plays a significant role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and international climate targets – like many other industries, it needs to transition towards a socially inclusive, energy-efficient and de-carbonised mobility system. Mapping informal transit was always a tool to achieve bigger aims: enable trip planning, improve physical planning and optimise networks. Since then, we have helped Djibouti, Kampala and Addis Ababa map their systems. This is an African success story in improving mobility.

Ultimately, our mission is to transition the informal-transport sector to improve service quality, enable electrification and fix mobility for the billions living and commuting in emerging cities. Through a combination of digital models we’ve built of the sector, along with market-structure analysis, sector governance and trends, we are able to define future paths for the transport transition.

We strive to transition transportation across multiple domains, enabling new consumer-facing innovations, such as trip planning that reaches everybody, designing new infrastructure and the transport networks of the future, and envisioning sustainable transport systems and the roadmap to get there.

Our vision is for trips to be on an electrified public transport system supported by high levels of active mobility, and where private car usage is electrified, minimised and part of a wider integrated multimodal system.

How will the grant from Expo Live help? What will it be used for?

Our journey with Expo Live started with a partnership with Columbia University and the University of Nairobi. Together, we applied, and were accepted in May 2017. Expo introduced us to so many inspiring examples, and provided us with funds, which allowed us to build our technology and test it in Cairo at scale. And we succeeded, finishing a first map of Cairo in May 2018. To make this first full map of the city, we developed our own digital technology and automation tools to map in a professional, scalable way.

What are the future plans for the organisation?

Transport for Cairo is currently growing at a 100 percent year-on-year rate, and will continue to grow. We are working in more and more countries, including Ghana and Rwanda, to map informal transit and enable the future transition of the informal sector in majority-world countries.

We are working to expand sustainable mobility through international green climate finance. Having worked with giant tech companies to bring trip planning on a massive scale, we will continue to work with governments to change what cities such as Cairo are doing and how they will look in the future. We will do that by providing an understanding of existing transport demand and supply in the Greater Cairo Area, and identifying opportunities to improve public transport services.

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