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Concordia University team uses mobile tech to help solve Ghana’s transit issues

Ghana's transit trotro
Accra’s transit system runs on a fleet of privately owned vans and minibuses called trotros, which serve the city’s 2.3 million inhabitants.

Researchers at Concordia University in Montreal have found a way to use mobile technology to map public transit routes for Ghana’s capital city of Accra. The process has turned out to be both cheap and effective for solving Ghana’s transit problems.

Accra’s transit system runs on a fleet of privately owned vans and minibuses called trotros, which serve the city’s 2.3 million inhabitants. Handy and inexpensive to ride, trotros serve upwards of 70 per cent of Accra’s commuters. Comparatively, those are huge numbers, as only about 23 per cent of Toronto’s commuters take public transit and, nationally, only 12 per cent of Canadians use public transit on a daily basis. (New York City has a high of 55 per cent public transit users.)

The trotros drive along fixed routes, picking up and dropping off passengers much like a city bus, yet unlike a municipally planned and operated system, many of Accra’s routes are self-determined by the trotro owners and thus the municipality was seriously lacking accurate information on the number of routes as well as their respective itineraries.

“Cities in the developing world face a common challenge when trying to better organize their transportation systems,” says Dr. Zachery Patterson, Associate Professor with the Department of Geography, Planning and Environment and 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. That’s why using inexpensive, readily available mobile technology is such a valuable tool.”

Dr. Patterson was contacted by a former student working in Ghana with the international development agency Agence française de développement and was asked to work on a project to help alleviate traffic and transit issues in Accra.

Dr. Patterson worked with Accra’s Department of Transport and the Agencd française de développement to survey the city’s trotro routes, using GPS-enabled smart phones and two mobile apps – DataMobile and Tap Log – with the resulting data being analyzed by Dr. Patterson’s team back at Concordia.
Below: A trotro ride in Accra…

The research team found that the transit network was actually less extensive than originally claimed, with only 315 active routes instead of 580 as originally estimated. What made up the difference was a set of “ghost routes”, routes claimed by various trotro owners, who speculated they might one day become profitable but, in fact, are currently not being run.

DataMobile is a free travel data collection app developed at the TRIP lab at Concordia University. The app provides information on location, speed and altitude of users’ travel via their smartphone. Tap Log is a free log entry app that allows users to develop personalized statistics and records of activities inputted via smart phone.

“This study shows how international collaborations can play a role in helping developing countries to take advantage of leapfrogging technologies to plan their own transportation systems,” says Dr. Patterson.

The AccraMobile project was recently presented at the 95th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board in the United States.

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About The Author /

Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.
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