Chock-a-block. That is the term that can best describe Nairobi City roads over the past week as offices reopened and the workers settled into their daily commute routines.
In 2012, Laban Okune, a software engineer, piloted a platform that has evolved to be a key source of traffic updates for users in the city.
Initially, the platform was to help users find the stations for public service vehicles (PSVs) dubbed matatus in Kenya hence the name Ma3Route. As time passed, new features were added including the traffic notice aspect.
The name remained even as the functionality changed from the initial route mapping feature and was registered as a company in 2015.
According to the Ma3Route team, Nairobi has a population of about 3.8 million people, including three million people moving in the city daily. With 400,000 vehicles on the road, like many cities in emerging markets, the Kenyan capital faces multiple urban challenges a rising demand for road usage, a limited infrastructure, semi-public transports and a lack of reliable information on traffic conditions.
As a result, urban traffic is not redistributed efficiently. Commuters end up facing accessibility challenges as they move within the city and Nairobi loses Sh42 billion ($400 million) in productivity every year due to travel times, fuel costs, air pollution and accidents.
The jarring statistics prompted the team to focus on a tech solution to address the traffic situation that has been increasingly troubling the city over the past few years.
“Public transport directions (matatus) were a main focus initially, but we’ve realised that all traffic information was a challenge for our users. A high level of iteration and a strong focus on solving our users problem remained paramount,” says the team.
The company last week revamped its Android application improving its traffic search, streamlined user posts and added a live traffic map.
“With this new version of our free mobility service, it’s never been faster to share and access useful real-time, information on road conditions in Kenya, and to get to where we need to go more efficiently,” says Ma3Route.
Ma3Route uses information from the more than 500,000 users from its various online services to collect the data it needs for updates, hence the crowdsourcing aspect.
“Our team brings a mix of technologists, city planners, transportation specialists, community managers, operations and business managers to deliver on the company’s promise: making mobility more enjoyable for all road travellers in African cities,” says Stéphane Eboko, business development, Ma3Route.
The team did not have an easy time starting up.
“By definition, in a crowdsourcing service, users create and share information. Thus, acquiring a critical mass of end-users was our first milestone. We had to be smart and agile, constantly listening to early adopters feedback,” says Eboko.
The reliance on user feedback prompted the team to add the feature to the Android app.
Traffic updates can be filtered by road name, proximity and timeframe. If they enable their location, users can get the traffic alerts that are relevant to them, including through voice. In addition to that, users can share traffic updates that include category, description, picture and location, making their contribution even more contextual. A brand new “quick post” feature is also available.
The live map helps the users to visualise various categories of posts on location, as they happen. The live updates are displayed according to the prevailing road conditions — traffic jam, accident or general information.
A dynamic view of road traffic is also available for selected areas.
“The company banks on online advertising and marketing campaigns including sponsored traffic updates several times a day,” says Eboke.
“With the penetration of smartphones and improvements in information and communication technologies in the continent. Africa’s online advertising is growing at 30 per cent per year.”
Ma3Route is currently available in Kenya-Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu as well as Uganda. In addition to the mobile app, it has a Web platform and an SMS service offering real time sharing and access of traffic, road conditions, navigation and mobility services near them.