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Crowdscouring to Cut Traffic Congestion in Nairobi

BY Julia Wetherell | Wednesday, April 3 2013

Crowdsourced traffic updates, at Ma3Route (screengrab).

Traffic congestion is a major issue in many large African cities, with commuters spending hours a day on clogged thoroughfares. The Kenyan capital of Nairobi is home to some of the worst traffic not only on the continent, but also in the world, with gridlock so unmoving that you can, on occasion, sleep in the middle of the road.

The one upside to traffic this bad is that, since thousands of people are affected by it, there is potentially a very large body of knowledge about roadway conditions in areas throughout the city.  This is the concept behind Ma3Route, a mobile application that crowdsources traffic information from Nairobi users.  Initially developed for tourists unfamiliar with navigating the city – and bereft of up-to-date maps reflecting recent topographical developments – the app has become a tool for Nairobi citizens trying to figure out the most efficient way to get from point A to point B. 

In an interview with allAfrica, founder Laban Okune notes that the Ma3Route service is dynamic, constantly updating to current traffic patterns and linked to social media:  

"Users can subscribe to traffic feeds on specified routes, especially if they use them routinely. Once subscribed to a particular route, you receive live updates as soon as news about traffic on that route is posted. Ma3Route is also currently interconnected with Twitter and can post allreceived traffic updates onto Twitter through @Ma3Route or the user's individua Twitter account."

The mobile service could serve as a close competitor to high-tech system proposed by IBM to solve the traffic problem in Nairobi. 

Traffic and navigability issues are a burden to many densely populated areas.  Harnessing the power of the crowd to avoid its own gridlock is a solution that is also being explored in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where a crowdmapped bus route map aimed to prevent the rapid spread of car ownership. 

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.