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How Nairobi Got Its Ad-Hoc Bus System on Google Maps | WIRED
"The idea to map the matatus began in 2012 when Sarah Williams and Jacqueline Klopp, two researchers working on land use projects in Nairobi, connected with Groupshot co-founder Adam White. “Adam and I started talking about the problem of working on sustainable transportation,” says Klopp, an associate research scholar at the Columbia Center for Sustainable Urban Development. “There were all these transportation projects going on, but there was no basic data about the existing transit system in Nairobi.”

The annals of the city government held some matatu data, but not much. Digital Matatus found records for about 75 percent of the routes, but they only included the start and end points, making it impossible to know how the buses navigated through the city. So armed with smartphones, ten university students spent four months riding the matatus, noting the name and location of each stop in a purpose-built app, which also used GPS to track the route. In dangerous neighborhoods, they followed behind the brightly painted buses in private cars.

By the end, the students recorded almost 3,000 stops on more than 130 routes. Next, all that data needed to be put in a usable format—specifically, a global standard called the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), which is compatible with open-source software used to make routing apps like Google Maps. But GTFS, developed in 2005, is geared towards formal transit systems, ones with fixed times and schedules.

That’s when Digital Matatus connected with Google Maps. Along with the rest of the robust GTFS community, Google agreed to update the global standard to make room for flexible transit networks with constantly changing schedules, routes, and stops. Nairobi was a perfect test bed. “In our efforts to expand public transportation on Google Maps, it was a good place to go next because there were people eager and willing to work on it,” said Mara Harris, a Google rep."



"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."
nairobi  googlemaps  buses  transportation  maps  mapping  publictransportation  africa  kenya  matutus 
september 2015 by robertogreco

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