Launching the matatu routes in Google emphasizes the need to study the informal transit networks that shuttle masses of people around in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia, and south Asia. “You’re saying this is part of the system,” said Klopp. And since the GTFS data structure and the Nairobi data are open source, Digital Matatus gives other groups in Mexico City, Manila, Dhaka, China, and elsewhere a plan to collect and disseminate data on their transit. The collaboration has already received requests from around the world to map their cities.
Digital Matatus has also started talks with four more cities in Africa—Kampala, Accra, Lusaka, and Maputo—to use the same methods to map their informal mass transit systems. “So many of our problems in developing cities where you have extreme poverty and awful environmental conditions—they’re always tied in some way to the transport sector,” said Cervero. “It’s very chaotic and unmanaged, so this is a huge first step towards enhancing those services.”
People in Nairobi still use the paper maps because the matatu routes have not changed since their release, and the ultimate goal is a formal transit system with set maps, times, and prices. But hopefully “formal” will still mean you enjoy your commute with twinkling disco balls and a good beat.
This is a cool development that will hopefully inform Nairobi County’s infrastructure planning going forward. It should not take 2.5 hours to travel across the city from Kahawa West to Rongai, a distance of only 24 miles.