Case studies

Safari Nijema – Analyzing informal mobility patterns with big data in Maputo (Mozambique)

Safari Nijema (“have a nice trip”) is an interdisciplinary 18 months project that is supporting the recently established Metropolitan Transport Agency (MTA) of Maputo (Mozambique) in managing the local public transit system and guiding its future development in a sustainable way. The project focuses on the informal mobility network of privately-owned minivans called chapas that offer an affordable way to displace throughout the region and reach many areas that are not accessible by the formal public transport system. Chapas are extensively used by metropolitan inhabitants but, due to the lack of a public control, they suffer from unsafety, unreliability and lack of an effective organization and planning.

The partners of Safari Nijema project are thus using innovative solutions to track the displacements of people, including those using chapas, and to map this complex informal network, providing MTA with information and visualization tools to be employed to support mobility policymaking.

Challenges encountered

  • Although local authorities are currently investing in the collection and publication of data, its availability is still a relevant problem.
  • To overcome issues of data-collection, the project consortium includes Cuebiq, a private start up that provides GPS mobility data by tracking the positions and the displacements of the users of specific smartphone apps.
  • Collecting mobility data by mobile phone tracking is a promising technique but researcher had to confront with several technical challenges related, for instance, to data representativeness and tracking precision.


The project involves several partners, both from the public and private sector. Among the most relevant, we find:

  • Politecnico di Milano, with different Department involved (Urban studies, Mathematics, Management Engineering, Informatics, Design).
  • Agência Metropolitana de Transporte de Maputo
  • Cuebiq, a US-based start-up cooperating under its social responsibility program (Data for Good)

Action steps

  • Defining a relevant data question based on the main mobility issues that are affecting the metropolitan area and involve all the relevant stakeholders.
  • Identifying innovative strategies of data collection.
  • Data analysis and processing to map the displacements of citizens and the supply of chapas
  • Using this information to measure the level of accessibility by walking and by formal and informal transit networks to basic urban opportunities such public healthcare facilities (ongoing – first results of the analysis are now available, see pictures)

Isochrones (the blue shapes) are calculated from each healthcare facility (the blue dots). Each of the nine layers of the isochrone, depicted with a different gradient of blue, represents the space that can be covered by a five minutes walk, meaning that the whole blue area around each dot covers the neighborhoods that are located at no more than a 45 minutes walk away from a public healthcare facility.

This information is relevant because it helps to assess the level of accessibility to basic services for the whole metropolitan area and orient policies accordingly. In the future, this approach can be replied considering the travel times by chapas, using the data obtained from the new sources experimented in this project, to map the reliability and the accessibility provided by informal transit networks in Maputo.

  • Visualizing and analyzing the result to find related problems, such poor road pavement, unserved areas, difficult interchange between different chapas (ongoing)
  • Design and implement policy responses to the identified problems also by involving the local population in a bottom-up perspective (still to be determined).
  • Expand the range of urban analysis by involving other local partners.

Lessons learned

  • Local authorities have expressed their complete interest towards Safari Nijema, offering a precious cooperation.
  • Involving local partners, stakeholders, and authorities since the very beginning of a project is a key ingredient to maximize its impact and success.
  • Challenges are encountered when collecting, processing, and understanding mobility data; public-private and interdisciplinary partnerships may help overcoming complex issues that may threat the success of a data-supported policy making process.
  • The impact of the project has gone beyond what was originally expected by the consortium, since the local context of Maputo offers a fertile ground for innovation and the team is now part of a network where future paths of research and project spin-offs are under discussion.

Links (Maputo Transport agency official website) (Official website of the social engagement and responsibility program of Politecnico di Milano) (Official website of Data for Good initiative)

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