Private buses known as matatus are the primary mode of motorized transport in Nairobi. In a collaborative effort called Digital Matatus, researchers from Columbia University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Nairobi used GPS tracking devices and smartphone data to create a digital map of Nairobi’s matatu routes.
University of Nairobi students geolocated stops along routes and recorded important information such as which stops are formally recognized by the city. This map and database is openly available through Global Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) format. With this, Kenyan tech start-ups have developed useful mobile applications for Nairobi’s citizens to suggest optimal routes, provide warnings about unsafe areas near matatu stops, and allow users to hail matatus by requesting pick-up at a specific location.
The Digital Matatus project helped passengers discover more efficient commuting routes. The new dataset will also help regulate bus stop locations; the project found that many buses stop erratically along the road to pick up passengers, with detrimental effects on traffic. The data collected by this project is also the first official record of existing routes. This information facilitates civic engagement and feedback during the transit planning process to incorporate some of the matatu routes into formal bus routes offered by the city.