Leveraging Cellphones for Wayfinding and Journey Planning in Semi-formal Bus Systems: Lessons from Digital Matatus in Nairobi
For many cities in the developing world, public transit consists mainly of semi-formal mini-buses (paratransit). However, little to no digital information is typically available on routes, bus stops, passenger boarding, service frequency or scheduled trip times. Cities that rely on these bus systems can benefit from the generation of digital data on these systems for planning and passenger information purposes. Perhaps more importantly, this data can provide the ability to generate citizen-based information tools, such as transit routing applications for mobile devices widely discussed in the smart cities dialog (Townsend in Re-Programming mobility: the digital transformation of transportation in the United States, 2014). Through our work in Nairobi, this paper shows that cell-phone technology that is ubiquitous in most countries can be used to generate a dataset in an open standard, GTFS. Citizens can then leverage open source tools made for that standard, enhancing access to information about the transit system. We argue that one of the most important components of our work in Nairobi was the engagement process that created trust in the data and knowledge of its existence for the development of civic technologies. The lessons learned in Nairobi can be translated to other areas with the potential to use mobile applications to develop data on essential urban infrastructure and to extend the use of that data by sharing it with a larger community.
KeywordsCell Phone Data Collection Process Smart City Public Transit Transit System
This work would not have been possible with the critical thinking and hard work of the University of Nairobi, School of Computing & Informatics students: Ikamar Ekessa, Peter Kamiri, Samuel Kariu, Maureen Mbinya, Jackson Mutua, Mureri Ntwiga. Researchers at MIT’s Civic Data Design Lab also contributed significantly to the work including; Jonathan Andrew Campbell, Emily Eros, Alexis Howland, Lindiwe Rennert, Alicia Rouault, Christopher Van Alstyne, Catherine Vanderwaart. Special thanks to Wenfei Xu from the Civic Data Design lab who was instrumental in the development of the Matatu Map. Thanks also to Professor Lawrence Esho and his students at the Technical University of Kenya for their valuable feedback on the Digital Matatu map. We also gratefully acknowledge the support of the Rockefeller Foundation which provided a grant for this work. Special thanks to Benjamin de la Pena at the Rockefeller Foundation for his support of and critical insights on this work. We also benefitted greatly from conversations that compared projects with Prof. Chris Zegras, Albert Ching, Stephen Kennedy, Neil Taylor, Kevin Webb and Emily Jean Eros. Last but not least, we thank James Gachanja and Dr. Zachary Gariy at KIPPRA for hosting the workshops and the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations for their work on the launch of the data and map for this work helped our thinking, made connections and showed us a way forward in sustaining data collection work.
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