By Jacqueline M. Klopp
Yesterday, the Kenya Alliance of Resident Association and the digitalMatatu consortium launched a comprehensive public (matatu) transit map and data base of routes and stops for Nairobi.The government in Nairobi has conducted little planning of public transit, leaving operators and drivers of matatus to shape the system. This means that many routes and stops are not officially designated and, while this allows matatus to be demand responsive and flexible, it also makes them vulnerable to police harassment and violent cartels. These dynamics contribute to the congestion problems in the city, poor conditions for matatu drivers, and inadequate and insecure public transit for this city of 3.5 million people. Collecting data needed for starting to better plan and improve this system is also challenging.
The digitalMatatu consortium consisting of the Civic Data Design Lab MIT, C4D lab at the University of Nairobi, the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University and Groupshot set out to leverage low cost technology to create one of the first comprehensive data sets for Nairobi’s “paratransit” system. Students with handheld devices sought out and road in matatus mapping out stops and routes. What is particularly signifiant about this work is that it demonstrates that transit systems commonly considered too “chaotic” to capture can be amenable to data collection efforts.
Another key feature of the digitalMatatu work is that the data collected is open and in a basic standard (GTFS) which allows use of open source software to develop trip planner and other applications for passengers and planners from the data. With the rapid changes in transit in Nairobi it will be critical to develop systems to update and gather more data and host it on an open transport data portal.
The data which contains 130 routes and stops, both designated and non-designated, has already proved its usefulness. Two entrepreneurs Laban Okune and Jeremy Gordon developed useful apps Ma3route and Sonar respectively. In turn, these apps can now help gather other useful data on accidents, congestion and driving via crowdsourcing. Planners have also been asking for the digitalMatatu data. At the launch of the map developed from the data Permanent Secretary of Transport Muli noted that “mapping of the current transit data provides a basis for proper planning and the Nairobi County government will come up with new PSV routes to help decongest the city and which will be used as a measure for issuing the new operating licences.” County Cabinet Secretary Mr. Ondieki announced that the county would adopt and use the map and data.
More information and the data is all available at digitalmatatus.com.