Using GPS data, researchers have created a map of the Matatus bus system in Nairobi, Kenya. Image: MIT Civic Design Data Lab/Digital Matatus project.
Using GPS data, researchers have created a map of the Matatus bus system in Nairobi, Kenya. Image: MIT Civic Design Data Lab/Digital Matatus project.

Nearly one-third of citizens in Nairobi, Kenya, use the city’s “matatu” system of privately owned minibuses—and yet, until now, it has never been officially mapped. Researchers at MIT’s Civic Data Design Lab have set out to change that. Their approach could provide a fuller picture of urban transit systems in the developing world, which tend to be informal and complicated, if no less essential than their standardized North American or European counterparts.

Until recently, matatu riders in Nairobi have only been able to use the parts of the network they are familiar with, often resulting in hours-long commutes. In partnership with the University of Nairobi and Columbia University, MIT researchers utilized GPS data collected from mobile phones to produce a map of the seemingly chaotic system—and found that there is actually some method to the madness. For example, regular routes exist, although they include many stops that weren’t part of the defunct bus system on which they were based. Researchers hope the government will use this data to improve segments of the system and relieve traffic congestion in parts of the city.

See a full-size version of the map created by the Digital Matatus project.

“When the government does not step in, these informal economies are developed to meet a certain need that the government should be taking care of,” says Sarah Williams MCP ’05, the director of the Civic Data Design Lab. “That’s exactly what’s happened here. And it’s fascinating to see, because it’s totally driven by need.”

The Nairobi government hopes to adopt the map produced by this study as its official matatu map.

More at The Atlantic Cities: This is What Informal Transit Looks like When You Actually Map It.

Related Topics

3 comments

  1. This seems to be immeasurably useful.
    To be honest, although the public transport system in Germany is well-planned, sometimes I even feel lost there, I have no idea how people can cope efficiently with using public transport in developing countries.

  2. William Muli

    Can i get latitude longitude data of the bus stops?

  3. MIT Spectrum

    Hi William,
    The Digital Matatus website has information for download, including latitude/longitude for the stops:  http://www.digitalmatatus.com/GTFS/

Share your thoughts

Thank you for your comments and for your role in creating a safe and dynamic online environment. MIT Spectrum reserves the right to remove any content that is deemed, in our sole view, commercial, harmful, or otherwise inappropriate.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *