Informal Transit and how data can improve it in Nairobi, Kenya

I just came across an interesting article about informal transport and what happens if a government does not step in, and how these informal economies are developed to meet a certain need that the government should be taking care of.

The minibuses in Nairobi, Kenya, aren’t owned by any government agency and fares aren’t regulated. The routes are vaguely based on an older bus network from some 30 years ago, but they’ve since shifted and multiplied and expanded to include the outskirt areas.

One result of this unregulated and organically grown network is that a driver in one part of Nairobi may know next to nothing about the lines that service the other half of town.  Passengers also tend to know little about them, either. Riders therefor usually use only the lines they know and the unofficial stops they’re sure actually exist.  There isn’t  a map of it of the network as a whole that would allow passengers to plan out their journey and estimate arrival time reliably. co2.gif

This is how transit works in much of the world outside of North America and Europe. 

The article shows a map outlining how local people work the system, and it becomes clear there is some kind of logic adminst the chaos.

Researchers and students at the University of Nairobi, the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University, and the Civic Data Design Lab at MIT produced that map – and the underlying data behind it – after carrying cell phones and GPS devices along every route in the network. Mapping how informal transport is used in developing countries’ cities is a great way to improve planning for bus companies and information access for commuters. REEEP’s current idea to use open data to increase sustainable transport in such megacities also looks into such options to get started!

“We recognized that if there was going to be any kind of improvement of this system in Nairobi, then people would need to be able to see it and visualize it and speak about it as a system, says Jacqueline Klopp, an associate research scholar at Center for Sustainable Urban Development.

The project was also intended for the benefit of government officials, who distribute matatu licenses for specific routes, but who had long since given up on trying to plan the system. Now the researchers hope that will change. This is a similar approach to how REEEP sees positive change as a result of publishing, and visualizing, transport data.




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