A screen shot of the commute from Ongata Rongai to Kahawa West
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.
Wired has the rest of the story on how this happened here.
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.
It was a few minutes after seven o’clock. The radio was on kiss fm – a popular local radio station – and the presenter (the very much likeable Caroline Mutoko) was talking about the envelope that Kofi Annan gave to Moreno Ocampo, the ICC chief prosecutor. The envelope supposedly has names of leading-light Kenyan politicians who organised the bloodshed that followed the botched 2007 presidential elections. We were discussing what this means for Kenya as my dad navigated the congested roads of Nairobi – the number of vehicles in this city keeps increasing but no one bothers to widen the roads. There are no lanes on most of them, and pedestrians – like the woman who almost got run over by my dad – do not care for the barely functional traffic lights and rare zebra crossings. Everyone plays games with the many traffic policemen stationed at junctions and roundabouts.
My dad had his sights ahead and to his left, trying hard not to be scratched by this very loud matatu that was trying to squeeze into the (imaginary) middle lane when all of a sudden some woman jumped into the road from the right. My dad instinctively hit the breaks, but it was too late. The front right tire hard caught the woman’s left shoe as she tried to jump back onto the pavement.
The craziest part of all this is how calm everyone involved was – including me. My dad reversed, the woman removed her shoe and then kept walking – like nothing had happened. I am convinced that Nairobian pedestrians are the toughest in the world.