Each country and its major city centres all have their own public transport DNA, as unique as a fingerprint. But some are more similar than others. Kigali, for instance, is in many ways South Africa’s twin when it comes to public transport and mobility.

The main mode of transport for the average person is minibus taxis, just like us (although they seem more tourist-friendly by often having their destinations presticked to the inside of the windscreen) plus a growing bus system and more traditional cabs which cost more than ten times the price. City irritation at drivers’ recklessness comes not from the minibus taxis as much as from the ‘boda boda’ cheap motorcycles that are a main method of transport – but the dynamic is very much like SA with its taxi drivers. The spread-out, hilly city is not unlike Johannesburg in both size and terrain, which makes European ideals of mobility like cycling and trams fairly impractical. Just like Cape Town and Johannesburg, rapid urbanisation of city centres and a more prosperous middle class means much more cars than the road systems were designed to handle. Traffic is a real problem.

Arguably, unlike South Africa, it seems that Kigali is really doing something about it.

In January, the City of Kigali embarked on a roads expansion project that is already showing fruit, with its first high priority section of the project completed in June and the second to finish any day now. Spanning more than 50 kilometres and costing more than $70 million, the aim of the project is to build bypasses that create new routes directly linking downtown Kigali, uptown and other less central areas where, before, commuters had to travel through the congested city centre to get to. According to Kigali city authorities and engineers in charge of the project, it will be completed by June 2018 – a tight deadline that they seem to be working impressively hard to achieve.

Another tight deadline that it seems Kigali will crack is that of electronic payment systems in busses. Kigali mobility company the AC Group announced last month that by the end of 2017, Kigali City will have fully adopted an electronic payment system for all its transport companies via AC Group’s ‘Tap & Go’ cards. This system of paying to get on any bus, throughout the city for the price of a minibus taxi has already changed a lot. Couple that with the $2.5 billion-dollar project of Bus Rapid Transport systems that the government has only just started on, and you get the clear message that mobility is something Kigali is prioritising for its future.

But arguably the most influential change will be the fact that Kigali is looking to reduce the use of private cars on its roads, as Business Daily magazine reported in Rwanda recently. “We want to make Kigali a public transport oriented city. Prioritising a modern public transport system is the best way to tackle congestion,” said Kigali City engineer Alphonse Nkurunziza told Business Daily.

The move has been met with quite a bit of tension, with new buildings under construction having their amount of parking bays limited, less parking lots and bans on roadside parking all underway. However, this is a goldmine of opportunity for mobility innovators like GoMetro. “Parking is going to be big business in this town and the city has opened up many opportunities for investors, but they must provide for them in the master plan,” said Charles Haba, managing director of Century Real Estate and chairman of the Real Estate Association of Rwanda, in the same article.

According to GoMetro CEO Justin Coetzee, Kigali really illustrates the need for multimodal transport – several methods of transport all working in harmony and sharing their data with one another to make mobility innovative. “There is still a bit of inefficient competition between cars, busses, taxis, and others. The city needs a multimodal data platform to ensure that synergies are unlocked. As more and more options enter a city with constrained geometry – harnessing multimodal data for decision-making, information distribution and making better choices is key to ensuring the efficient use of space, movement and vehicle distribution. Consolidating the different information streams is the starting point to identify where information gaps still exist,” he said.

But that does not mean that SA’s cities can’t learn from Kigali – a city that has already single-mindedly solved litter problems and environmental sustainability with the fervour it now seems to be focussing on mobility.

“South African cities can see how quickly and easily improvements to the public transport system can be made with decisive city leadership and progressive planning practices that really want to show results to the travelling public,” Coetzee concluded. “South African cities time from planning to deployment of transport systems are taking very long with 7 or more years passing before the first tangible change can be seen, whereas a city such as Kigali is implementing concrete improvements to their city’s transport network very quickly.  Decisive and progressive planning and execution gives a city network a sense of momentum which is lacking in a number of South Africa’s cities currently – and needs a kickstart.”