Nairobi’s Matatu and Bus System

Matatus and buses are utilized by 70% of Kenyans to get around due to their affordability and convenience. However, Kenya’s public transport system is chaotic. As the vehicles are privately owned, schedules and prices are not fixed. Finding the right stop can also be difficult.

To address this issue, the Digital Matatus Project was born. The project is a collaboration between MIT, Columbia University and University of Nairobi as well as the design firm Groupshot. The project started in 2012 with an idea to map the matatu system. Afterwards there came the collection of data on the existing matatu system. Data was obtained from government records, directly from the field and through workshops held with the transit community.

The collected data was then cleaned and formatted into GTFS (General Transit Feed Specifications). The routes were also drawn onto a paper map to help travellers orient themselves. The routes were launched on Google Maps allowing people to obtain the matatu system on their smartphones.

The new data, made free and available by Digital Matatus allowed the tech community to develop apps providing routing information and transit apps. The data and paper map are also being utilized by UN-HABITAT to guide the bus rapid transit they are developing for Nairobi.

The system drawn up by Digital Matatus has helped to bring some order into Nairobi’s chaotic transport system. One only needs to consult the paper map or type a query on Google maps and they are able to obtain accurate route information to help them plan their journey.