Documenting our commutes – the OpenStreets Travel Diaries challenge


In an effort to establish a realistic reflection of the current state of movement and mobility in Cape Town, the team behind Open Streets recently invited people from all corners of the city to participate in a 7-day AtoB Travel Diary Challenge.

Equipped with a pocket-sized logbook provided by Open Streets, each participant had to jot down the entire spectrum of their daily commutes – from the journeys to-and-from-work to visiting the corner shop to stock up on milk and bread – mode of transport used, time spent on the trip and kilometre distance.

Over the course of January, 54 participants managed to complete their travel diaries, recording a total of 1725 trips, which translates to an average 4.5 per day over seven consecutive days.

After receiving the completed diaries, Open Streets has released a report, revealing a fascinating snapshot of mobility in Cape Town. “It is important to note that this is not a random sample representing the full cross-section of the Cape Town population, and that this data primarily demonstrates the potential for a greater range of travel options than are used by the general population,” the introductory paragraph reads, suggesting that while the study can by no means be classified as comprehensive it does open the way for further research, debate and conversation.

Here are a few of the most interesting findings:


Cars rule the roost

Sitting at 45% of all logged trips, driving a private vehicle seemed to be the favourite mode of transport among participants by far. Despite the dominance of car trips, some people reported changing their choice of mode on different days for the same type of trip, supporting the notion that many commuters have more flexibility than one might expect.

Many participants also logged travelling to work by walking, cycling or taking a bus, but then used cars for off-peak periods when making longer trips to destinations that are not well-served by public transport.

Active transport

Interestingly, walking took the second position with 29% of all logged trips made entirely on foot. These excluded trips to or from a bus or rail service and had an average duration of 13 minutes, with just over half taking 10 minutes or less. While only 9% of all logged trips were completed by bicycle, it proved to be the third most-used form of transport.

Thirteen people (24%) did not walk at all; but of these, 7 rode bicycles for some trips. Thus 89% of all diarists participated in some form of active transport (walking, cycling or skateboarding).

Short trips vs long trips

Nearly 36% of all trips logged were less than 10 minutes in duration, while 60% were less than 15 minutes.

Of all trips taking 10 minutes or less to complete, 50% were made by foot, bicycle or skateboard. For trips up to 15 minutes, non-motorised transport (NMT) modes decrease to 46%, and for trips up to 20 minutes, NMT modes made up 45% of the total.

Only 2% of all trips logged lasted 60 minutes or more, and of these, 44 % were completed by car,  32% using public transport, 22% using NMT and 2% by motorbike.

Since most of the trips that logged could be considered ‘short’, Open Streets believes that there is much more scope for cycling to be incorporated into daily commutes. This echoes the City’s plan to increase commuter cycling from the current 1% of all trips to 8% by 2030.


What we thought

A number of Cape Town Partnership staff members decided to take part in the AtoB Challenge as an exercise in mindfulness about their daily commutes. Here’s what a few of them had to say about the experience:

Alan Cameron, Senior Project Manger

Lives in Green Point

I was surprised that I didn’t travel further than 6.7km at any one time during the week of the challenge. Living in Three Anchor Bay and working 2.4km away in town, helps – as does having the shops and my child’s school nearby.

As we’re a single car family, I thought I didn’t use the car as much as I did – but looking at the travel diary, I used it plenty. And it’s indispensable, especially on the days when I was on the school run. I don’t envy parents using public transport with a child who is tired after school.

At the moment my commute is governed by what is more convenient, so I will use public transport and walk the relatively short distances to meetings or home from work. If I were to move further away from my work, I would probably be obliged to buy a second car for the family.

Aidan Antonienko, Intern

Lives in Observatory

The challenge made me realise the contrast between my transportation abroad and at home in the US. At home, I get almost everywhere by car, driven by either me or my friends. Here, I mostly walk, take the train, and Uber. Even when I Uber, I only do if time or safety requires it, because of course, the costs can add up, whereas at home I could drive wherever I wanted for only the cost of fuel. I really do enjoy walking and taking public transportation, so realising that it’s become such a daily part of my life will make me more mindful of it here and when I return home.

Nadia Krige, Digital Editor

Lives in Sea Point

I found that keeping track of my travels during the working week was rather easy, as most of my trips took place within the 4.3km between my home and work and jotting them down in my logbook became routine. Most commutes to-and-from work were completed by bus or minibus taxi, while I did many of the shorter trips on foot and one or two using my car. Over the weekend, I relied much more heavily on my car during the day for longer trips and opted for Uber in the evenings. Short trips were once again completed on foot.

Even though I have a bicycle, I didn’t complete a single trip using it. This is mainly because it’s the least convenient mode available to me  firstly, I have to carry it down four flights of stairs; secondly, I don’t have a proper locking mechanism; and thirdly, the lack of basket or rack makes it difficult to transport things like groceries. Since I do enjoy cycling, I decided that the one change I did want to make to my commuting habits, was to increase the use of my bicycle, which means eliminating some of the inconvenience.

Want to log your own commutes?

“We will be inviting people at the next Open Streets Day in Mitchells Plain to sign up for the second chapter so please do refer anyone you think might be interested to this link so they can sign up,” says Marcela Guerrero Casas of Open Streets.

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