By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions
SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY
Around the world, traffic congestion is often accepted as the price paid for rapid development and a dynamic economy. But as anyone who lives in a large city knows, there comes a tipping point where the congestion begins to harm economic activity by wasting people’s time in lengthy and aggravating commuting, and leaving commuters frazzled and burned out by the whole experience.
According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, 95 per cent of congestion growth in the coming years will be in developing countries. Even in developed countries like the United States, in 2000, the average driver experienced 27 hours of delays (up seven hours from 1980) (MIT Press). This balloons to 136 hours in Los Angeles.
Developing countries are seeing vehicle numbers rise by between 10 and 30 per cent per year (World Bank). In economic hotspots, growth is even faster.
Lagos, Nigeria, the throbbing business hub of West Africa’s most populous nation, has a network of over 2,700 km of roads with a vehicle density of 740 vehicles per kilometre (E.I. Bello). All those cars consume over 85 per cent of the petroleum products imported into the country – a costly expense for a country that actually imports oil. All this driving is necessary because the city has no rail or sea mass transit system and all movements of people and goods are by road.
Nigeria suffers from the irony of being a country that makes 95 per cent of its export earnings and 80 per cent of its revenue from oil, yet has to import most of its fuel because its refineries are constantly breaking down.
The overwhelming majority of mega-cities are now located in developing countries, including sprawling conurbations such as São Paulo, Brazil (18.8 million inhabitants in 2007), Delhi, India (15.9 million), and Manila, Philippines (11.1 million). By 2015 Lagos will have 12.8 million inhabitants and by 2025, it is estimated it will have 16.8 million citizens.
That will be a lot of cars and frustrated people trying to get around.
One project trying to alleviate the pain of a daily commute in the city is called Traffic (Traffic.com.ng). The computer application, or ‘app’, has a live feed of traffic on its homepage, collecting information from a wide variety of sources: the web, mobile phones and SMS (short message service) text messages sent in by mobile telephone. The service is also looking to extract information from microblogging site Twitter (twitter.com).
The service says it aims to “reduce stress on Lagos road by providing up-to-the-minute traffic status in the state.”
It uses the powerful concept of ‘crowdsourcing’, in which a large group of people contributes to solve a problem by combining the technological power of mobile phones and the Internet. These two technologies mean it is possible to solve problems in real time and draw on a very large group of people spread out over a wide geographical area.
So, how does it work? A user can go to the homepage and click “View Traffic Report From” and see live data streaming in. If the user wants to see traffic conditions in a particular area, they type in the road and area in a box on the page and click to see the report.
Those who are stuck in a traffic jam and want to alert others can send an SMS message with the keywords to 07026702053.
The Traffic app came under scrutiny by the anonymous blogger Cherchez la Curl, whose blog is about “celebrating African women and natural hair”: “It’s no Einstein-worthy revelation to say that solving Lagos’ traffic problem (and, more generally, improving Nigeria’s poor transportation network) is one of the keys to sustaining growth and economic development in Nigeria,” the blog said.
The blog’s author found the service was still in its early days: “While the idea is a fantastic application of modern technology to developing Africa, the only problem I see is that it seems like no-one is sending through traffic alerts! On a recent visit to the site, the alert stream was empty of alerts save for a few tweets. It’s a shame as this service would be extremely handy as a counterpoint/band-aid whilst government sorts out the root cause of the traffic.”
It sounds like it is still early days for the Traffic app and Lagos residents will be its harshest critics.
1) LagosMet.com: An Internet bulletin board offering rolling updates on Lagos traffic and security reports. Users can also post their reports. Website: http://lagosmet.com
2) eNowNow: A website offering live updates on Lagos traffic congestion. Website: http://traffic.enownow.com
3) SENSEable City: A project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s SENSEable City Laboratory to use the new generation of sensors and hand-held electronics to change how cities are understood and navigated. This includes creating real-time maps of cities that can then be used to help with avoiding traffic congestion and other problems. Website: http://senseable.mit.edu
4) Mobility 2001: World Mobility at the End of the Twentieth Century and its Sustainability published by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Website: http://www.wbcsd.org
5) Lagos Traffic Crowdmap: A mix of user-contributed reports on the traffic conditions in Lagos. Website: https://lagostraffic.crowdmap.com/main
6) A study of Urban Traffic Management – A Case Study of Lagos State Traffic Management Authority by E. I, Bello et al., 2009. Website: http://www.scientific.net/AMR.62-64.599
7) Cities for All: An interview on book seeking to find solutions to the congested cities of the South. Website: http://globalurbanist.com/2010/08/24/cities-for-all-shows-how-the-worlds-poor-are-building-tiesacross-the-global-south
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