(Charles Gichane) Kenyan commuters and motorists can now navigate through Nairobi much more easily thanks to a new mobile application called Ma3Route that brings important information such as traffic updates, careless driving notifications and detailed directions to their phones, tablets or computers.
Ma3Route was developed and launched in April by Nasoft Technologies, a Kenyan startup company co-founded in 2008 by software developer, Laban Okune.
Okune acknowledged that his unfamiliarity to Nairobi when he initially moved from his village to attend Kenyatta University inspired him to create an application that would allow people like him to easily find matatu routes and directions to get around the city.
“I began thinking about finding an easier way of knowing how to get from point A to point B,” he revealed.
Ma3route was coined around the idea of “get directions to a place, explore the place, if you like the place, do business or stay there” and Okune said he hopes to help the common citizen as well as local businesses by providing them with a platform to advertise their services.
It runs on either an Android mobile platform (downloaded from Play store), via SMS and on the web at www.ma3route.com.
“All platforms are easy to use both for uploading and looking up traffic information,” he confirmed.
The platform aggregates the crowd-sourced data it receives from users and provides an easy to understand way for citizens to get updates.
A user can either look at traffic in all of Nairobi or zoom in on the specific route in which they may be interested.
“When you go to Ma3Route.com or download the free Android app, there’s a facility to input directions so you just fill in the locations of where you are and where you want to go to and you hit enter to receive instant detailed directions, which include how to get to the matatu you should take, where it should drop you off and how much it should cost,” he explained.
“It also provides alternative routes if traffic is an issue and it also gives you the estimated cost of a taxi to your desired location,” he added.
Okune noted that new residents to a developing country like Kenya often find it difficult to learn the different neighborhoods and public transportation route maps are rare to find. Often, the only way to learn how to travel via public transportation is by asking around.
“This can be a very time-consuming and potentially dangerous method to learn a new city,” he emphasised.
“The app empowers citizens to make Kenyan roads safer, find the least traffic-congested route, and explore any given neighborhood,” he stated.
In addition to helping find public transportation routes, the app also works as a traffic guide, as it allows citizens to easily share the traffic situation they are experiencing in real time.
Much like Wikipedia, Okune acknowledged that the success and usability of the app would greatly depend on user input and updates.
“According to IBM’s “commuter pain” report in 2011, Nairobi was listed as the fourth worst city in the world for traffic congestion and we often find ourselves trying to get home after a tiring day of work only to sit in traffic for another 3 to 4 hours,” he stated.
Along with traffic reports, users are also able to update other Kenyans on public transportation vehicles or other motorists who engage in reckless and dangerous driving.
Kenyan road safety is a big concern with 510 out of every 100,000 vehicles involved in fatal accidents as compared to 260 in South Africa and 20 in the United Kingdom.
“These accidents are often due to reckless driving, often by drivers of matatus who overlap on our roads, but our Kenyan traffic police cannot be everywhere every time this occurs,” he acknowledged.
Ma3Route has a “mulika dere” functionality where citizens are able to report any bad driving that they witness.
The data is critical for organizations such as Kenya Police and Matatu SACCOs who need to keep tabs on the drivers.
Okune also said that he would like to partner with radio stations and organisations such as the Kenya Red Cross who rely heavily on traffic reports.
“By using Ma3Route to get a radio station’s traffic updates, they will have a wider pool of information from which to source from,” he explained.
“The app makes it easier for stations to read the traffic updates on air because they no longer have to read the SMS or written down voice call, but can simply keep the web interface up on the computer and read as the traffic reports stream live,” he added.
He hopes that as Ma3Route becomes more and more popular, it will provide radio stations with more accurate information from a wider range of sources than just their listeners.