This Is What Informal Transit Looks Like When You Actually Map It

This article which recently appeared in City Lab gets straight  to the heart of the New Mobility Agenda as we understand it, a critical and often ignored mobility category which we have long since dubbed xTransit, Third Ways of Getting around in Cities.  Just below you will find some key excerpts from the article; for the full text click to  http://goo.gl/hI8VI . If you are not familiar with the Matatu, you will  find additional background in the short but quite useful Wikipedia site at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matatu.  For more on our xTransit work, have a look at http://worldstreets.wordpress.com/category/xtransit and eventually https://www.facebook.com/groups/xtransit .

cropped-africa-kenya-nairobi-matatu-vehicle.jpg

An experiment from Nairobi with implications for the urbanizing world.

- By Emily Badger, The Atlantic City Lab, 3 Feb. 2014. Full text here

As transit systems go, the “matatus” in Nairobi exist somewhere between underground gypsy cabs and MTA bus service. The minibuses themselves aren’t owned by any government agency. The fares aren’t regulated by the city. The routes are vaguely based on a bus network that existed in Nairobi some 30 years ago, but they’ve since shifted and multiplied and expanded at the region’s edges.

As a result, a matatu driver on “route 45″ in the northeast part of Nairobi may know next to nothing about the lines that service the other half of town. Not surprisingly, many passengers on board know little about them, either. Riders who navigate the matatu system rely on it in parts, using only the lines they know and the unofficial stops they’re sure actually exist. As for the network as a whole – there’s never even been a map of it.

This sounds like controlled chaos, although it more or less describes how transit works in much of the world outside of North America and Europe. But amid the 130 or so unregulated matatu lines in metro Nairobi, there’s an admirable logic. In the absence of a formal public transit system in Kenya’s capital, people have created a comprehensive – if imperfect – one on their own. And now we know that it looks like this.

africa kenya nairobi matatu map

. . .

This project, though, illustrates that it’s possible to wrap your head around what looks like a scattered, unplanned transportation system. And it speaks to the reality that transit is so essential to urban life that people will find a way to develop it even without government help.

“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, 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.”

. . .

* Full text and graphics available here.

About the author:

 Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area and now writes for The Washington Post.

About City Lab:

CityLab is dedicated to the people who are creating the cities of the future—and those who want to live there. Through sharp analysis, original reporting, and visual storytelling, our coverage focuses on the biggest ideas and most pressing issues facing the world’s metro areas and neighborhoods.

CityLab/The Atlantic
600 New Hampshire Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20037

Phone number is: (202) 266-6000

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Note from the editor:

This is a powerful, counter-traditional practices, 21st century  lesson in reality and creativity  for transport planners and policy makers.

Author/Editor
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Trained as a development economist, Eric Britton is MD of EcoPlan International, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. His forthcoming book, “Toward a General Theory of Transport in Cities”, is being presented, discussed and critiqued in a series of international conferences, master classes, workshops and media events over 2014. (More at http://wp.me/PsKUY-2p7)

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