Financial Standard

Mobile apps help commuters dodge traffic jam

By Lillian Kiarie

Nairobi, Kenya: Kenya’s chaotic transport sector has got the attention of mobile software developers.

With seven in every 10 Kenyans having access to a cellphone, applications aimed at providing mobile-based transport solutions are promising to bring a semblance of sanity into the sector.

According to a recent report, Nairobi’s traffic jams, which are exacerbated by poor infrastructure and governance, cost the county an estimated Sh50 million a day.

As a result, a lot is riding on the success of applications such as Twende Twende, Ma3Route, HERE Maps and Pewin Cabs App. Here’s how each works.

Twende Twende

Twende Twende (Kiswahili for let’s go) informs drivers of traffic jams and suggests alternate routes to bypass the congestion.

It relies on a map developed by IBM’s Africa Research Lab in Nairobi.

It bases its recommendations on a central system that uses image recognition algorithms to process traffic camera feeds, and a separate algorithm to predict traffic on streets not covered by the cameras.

Twende Twende takes advantage of the over 36 CCTV cameras that have been installed in Nairobi, and calculates traffic conditions on the 98 per cent of county streets not covered.

Using a mobile phone, a driver can get recommendations via short message service or on a map interface.

“If we have two isolated parallel streets with a single connecting street, and we know the ingress and egress numbers for cars on each of the parallel streets, we can estimate how many cars are taking a street connecting them,” IBM Africa Research Lab’s chief scientist Uyi Stewart said.

To use Twende Twende, motorists send a free text message reporting where they are and their desired destination, and receive a reply with traffic conditions and route recommendations.

Ma3Route

Read as “matatu route”, this application provides traffic updates, gives directions to places and allows users to report rogue drivers. It also informs users on city planning and transport regulations.

The updates rely mainly on live feed sent by end users either via the app or Twitter. You can view the updates through a text feed or via Google Maps integrated in the app.

And if you are not sure where to board a matatu to a certain place, the app comes in handy.

For instance, if you want to travel from Nairobi to Kiambu, you just need to type in “Town” as the point of origin and “Kiambu” as the destination.

The app will perform a search and reply: “Go to Temple Road between Mfangano Street, OTC area, board matatu number 100 and ask to be dropped at Kiambu. It will cost you Sh40. Alternative: Taxi. It will cost you Sh800.”

Ma3Route can be downloaded from the Google Play Store and is free to use.

Here Maps

Nokia has introduced HERE Maps on its Lumia and Asha phone models, which offers Kenyan consumers up-to-date maps and navigation services.

The application does not need a data connection.

“For Kenya alone, we have around 68,000 kilometres of road and 37,000 points of interest, all field verified. This data, combined with our HERE services like Maps, Drive and City Lens, brings an enriched experience and consumer value to our Nokia Lumia and Asha smartphones,” said Bruce Howe, Nokia East Africa’s general manager.

Volunteer experts use the Map Creator app to make real-time amendments to the map’s support system, which means that a temporary road closure can be quickly added, with an alternative route suggested.

The app also gives the speed limits on various roads.

Pewin cabs app

Pewin Cabs, a taxi service, has created an application that enables users to track a cab driver’s location from an Android device. The application uses a phone’s GPS capabilities.

It eliminates the anxious wait for a taxi by alerting you on the precise time the nearest driver will reach you, in addition to his or her name, mobile number and vehicle registration plate.

You do not have to type in your address as the GPS system will find your current location, and the nearest cab.

Once your vehicle arrives, you receive a text message letting you know that your driver is waiting.

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