The smartphone aims to tackle urban mobility
While transportation troubles might seem particularly painful in Western urban centres, they can be even more keenly felt in the developing world.
To this end Zachary Patterson, an associate professor in the Department Geography, Planning and Environment, at the request of a former student, now with the Agence française de développement, initiated a project to map the public transit system in Ghana’s capital, Accra.
Patterson hopes the results of his project will help Western municipalities see how they can learn from these experiences in Africa.
"Cities in the developing world face a common challenge when trying to better organize their transportation systems: they don’t have accurate information about the transportation network that already exists," says Patterson, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Transportation and Land Use Linkages for Regional Sustainability.
"Because data collection is a complicated and costly exercise, city officials don’t have the resources to thoroughly review their network," he says. "That’s why using inexpensive, readily available mobile technology is such a valuable tool."
A pitcure of public transit surveyors in Ghana. Image courtesy of Zachary Patterson.
At the heart of Accra’s transit system is a fleet of small public transit buses known as trotros. The Accra Municipal Assembly has been working with AFD for a number of years to better regulate the trotro system.
Initial regulatory steps identified and licensed routes, but the number of routes in operation and their actual itineraries, remained unknown.
That’s where Patterson, a former transportation planner with Agence métropolitaine de transport in Montreal, came in. Accra’s Department of Transport (DoT) and the Agence française de développement undertook a survey of the city’s trotro routes armed with GPS-enabled smart phones to map the city’s transit network with a very limited budget, and a short time frame.
Using two mobile apps, DataMobile, which Patterson had initially developed at Concordia to map transportation habits in Montreal, and Tap Log, surveyors rode the trotros while recording GPS points and logging stops along the routes. The recorded data was then processed and analyzed by Patterson’s research team back in Montreal.
The results were surprising for both Patterson and Accra’s city planners. They found that the transit network was full of "ghost routes" — pathways that had been claimed by drivers but that weren’t in use.
"Drivers would preventatively register routes that they thought would one day be profitable in order to have a monopoly on them," Patterson says. "Registering a route gives a driver the exclusive right to operate it, so that they can make sure that no competing driver can scoop them in the future."
These ghost routes were an important discovery for the DoT, as it provided a clearer sense of the actual extent of trotro services — 315 active routes instead of the originally claimed 580.