Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mapping Nairobi's Minibuses

This made the rounds on the web in the last few weeks, and since I am on the topic of public urban transport this week, and it’s a good project, I’m posting it here: Digital Matatus, a multi-year project that has created a map of all the informal minibus routes in urban Nairobi.

Image of Digital Matatu Map.

The various actions of Nairobi’s various matatu operators have been organized by a coalition affiliated with MIT into the familiar aesthetic of the transit map. From the About section of the Website:

Collaborative research and mapping for Nairobi’s Public Transit[We] are working toward standardizing and opening transit data for Nairobi’s Matatus — the informal and de facto city bus system — and expanding our findings, tools, and processes globally. Building on past Kenyan-based digital mapping efforts and open source transit software, the group will produce a comprehensive framework for collecting, opening and mapping Matatu transportation data toward a mobile and equitable Nairobi. Currently underway, a primary round of data collection and local student design workshops are growing the understanding of this otherwise misunderstood and complex system. The first series of tools will be entering development this spring to improve on data collection and transport information management in the decentralized Matatu system. This project uses Nairobi’s active mobile phone community to develop a standardized Matatu bus route for Nairobi informal buses. By developing crowd sourcing applications we hope people in Nairobi can develop, contribute, maintain and own their own transit information.

A cool project, even if there are some lingering questions of how up-to-date a decentralized, "crowdsourced" map can be without active management, and also how well the intended end-user adopts the product, as I question whether Nairobi's harried commuters are really downloading a map from a website. What happens when a driver changes routes? Does this happen often? Do they set a fixed schedule? 

Right now, there isn't much that's exactly digital about the static product, other than it was drawn using open-source software. It's currently a PDF file. Nonetheless, very neat.


Jackie Klopp said...

Thanks for your interest in our digital matatu project. Actually the map is just one product coming out of an open GTFS data base on the transit system (found on the GTFS exchange site and also on our website) which is actually being used by a number of app developers to generate free transit apps for Nairobians. The issue of updating the data is an important one and we are in active discussions in Nairobi on how to make this work as well as how to expand the kind of high quality open data for transit in Africa. Finally, we would like to step this map down for riders of certain routes and people who may not have smart phones. Lots to do for advocates of good public transit in Africa.

dusoft said...

Wow, lots of kudos for the map!

I was desperately looking for similar map for Addis Ababa, specially after all the changes in the minibus routes during the light train public transport construction.

I wrote my info on how to use Addis Ababa public transport.

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