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Clearing the way

Clearing the way Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images
17 May
2015
Seven million passengers in a city with 21 million inhabitants means constant gridlock for Lagos and more than 50 per cent of Nigeria’s total greenhouse gas emissions

In Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, the main ways for the public to get about – apart from in private cars – are by using transit buses called danfo and molue, along with motorcycle taxis known as okada. With the sheer amount of passengers clogging up the roads daily, there’s not much room to walk.

There is a railway system, but it only takes 8,000 passengers a day. When Nollywood (the Nigerian cinema industry) actress Mercy Johnson posted on social media that she was taking the train to avoid five-hour traffic jams, she made headlines.

A planned seven-line urban rail project paid for with a US$1billion World Bank loan and built by China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation will ease traffic – if and when it is completed. The first line was due to open last year, but the project has been delayed until this September.

Crowdsourcing information from Lagosians could help. Traffic is a recently launched app that brings together SMS messages and social media information to create up-to-date traffic maps.

Rival site, TrafficButter, breaks down traffic alerts road-by-road. As with Traffic, the service relies on SMS and Twitter feedback and as users provide information on traffic conditions, the app ranks their contributions for reliability. At the moment, the main block seems to be funding. The founders of TrafficButter put up US$20,000 in 2010, and were looking for US$250,000 more. They’re still looking.

At the government level, collecting data about the frequent road accidents in Lagos remains a difficult endeavour. Road accidents in Nigeria are usually due to driver error, but tend to occur at specific chokepoints, such as potholes, sharp bends and unexpected police checkpoints.

This year, Nigerian researchers proposed a simple traffic data collection system that would work on mobile phones and would enable Nigeria’s authorities to follow and document where and when accidents are happening. Assuming they can get through the traffic to the incidents in the first place.

This article was published in the May 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine

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