From Nairobi to Manila, mobile phones are changing the lives of bus riders

Shomik Mehnidrata at Transport for Development Blog: “Every day around the world, millions of people rely on buses to get around. In many cities, these services carry the bulk of urban trips, especially in Africa and Latin America. They are known by many different names—matatus, dalalas, minibus taxis, colectivos, diablos rojos, micros, etc.—but all have one thing in common: they are either hardly regulated… or not regulated at all. Although buses play a critical role in the daily life of many urban dwellers, there are a variety of complaints that have spurred calls for improvement and reform.

However, we are now witnessing a different, more organic kind of change that is disrupting the world of informal buses using ubiquitous cheap sensors and mobile technology. One hotbed of innovation is Nairobi, Kenya’s bustling capital. Two years ago, Nairobi made a splash in the world of urban transport by mapping all the routes of informal matatus. Other countries have sought to replicate this model, with open source tools and crowdsourcing supporting similar efforts in Mexico, Manila, and beyond. Back in Nairobi, the Magic Bus app helps commuters use sms services to reserve and pay for seats in matatus; in September 2016, MagicBus’ potential for easing commuter pain in the Kenyan capital was rewarded with a $1 million prize. Other programs implemented in collaboration with insurers and operators are experimenting with on-board sensors to identify and correct dangerous driver behavior such as sudden braking and acceleration. Ma3Route, also in Nairobi (there is a pattern here!) used crowdsourcing to identify dangerous drivers as well as congestion. At the same time, operators are upping their game: using technology to improve system management, control and routing in La Paz, and working with universities to improve their financial planning and capabilities in Cape Town.

Against this backdrop, the question is then: can these ongoing experimental initiatives offer a coherent alternative to formal reform? …(More)”.