In many cities around the world, finding out how to get from one point to another is as simple as opening your smartphone and searching for a route. If you are reading this on a smartphone, you most likely use maps, ride sharing and public transit applications on a daily basis to find out what time the next bus arrives, which is the shortest route or how bad traffic is before leaving work.
However, in cities such as Santiago de Caballeros in the Dominican Republic, figuring out public transportation still represents a big challenge.
Santiago is the second biggest Dominican city, with just over one million inhabitants, of whom 65% use public transport daily. While the public transport network has a formal governance structure, it isn’t mapped yet. Nor there is digital data of public transport. So who wish to use it do not find information or signs about routes and stops, nor can they access arrival or departure times. To this day, the most common way is to ask other people what buses go to specific places or where should one go to take certain bus routes.
SANTIAGO MAP: WHERE IS IT?
Such a lack of information, and the lack of a complete and reliable mapping of public transport, seriously affects mobility, limiting access to opportunities, especially for low-income people. "As a resident of Santiago, I have had to use public transport and I have been lost, not knowing where to take it or where I am going," says Miguel Moya, a student at the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra (PUCMM) in Santiago.
Generating public transport data is costly, in some cases exceeding local budgets. Given the scarcity of resources, community mapping can be a low-cost alternative to generate information on mobility conditions.
This was the solution we proposed in Santiago de los Caballeros. See how it worked.
No one knows urban spaces and services better than the people who use them on a daily basis. But when it comes to planning public transport, it is not common for citizens to participate in the process. The transport sector is often criticized for being too technocratic, where the models used in planning are considered inaccessible by the majority of the population.
Citizen participation represents an innovative way to overcome this problem, involving the inhabitants of a city effectively in public policy planning. Using specific methodologies and open technologies, the collective production of information can provide useful data in a massive way at a low cost for governments.
In order to close the public transport data gap in Santiago and create opportunities for direct citizen participation, the Inter-American Development Bank —in collaboration with the city's authorities, the Santiago Strategic Development Council (CDES), PUCMM, operators, passengers and civil society— created a community mapping pilot called Mapping Santiago in which digital technology and participatory methodologies played a fundamental role.
Photo Gallery: mapping Santiago together
The project included training, mapping of public transport routes, data processing, an analysis of accessibility conditions for people with disabilities, and an assessment of safety conditions for the elderly and disabled. This, of course, with the participation of numerous local actors at every step.
“With Mapping Santiago, we put special emphasis on understanding and serving regular transport users, and making them stakeholders at every step of the project. We worked with municipal and academic authorities, with transport operators and passengers, and with organizations representing groups of people with disabilities to ensure that the mapping was truly a community project,” says Patricio Zambrano, specialist at the IDB’s Housing and Urban Development Division. "What we are trying to promote is collaborative mapping; that is, to use the power of open technologies to include as many people in the process, and at the end of the day, share all the information generated with as many people as possible.”
Helped by the explosive increase in smartphone use and penetration in the Dominican Republic, the mapping of Santiago’s public transport system was carried out through an app called MapMap. This app, which allows users to collect geo-referenced data from public transport routes in a simple way, was developed a few years ago by the community of Codeando Xalapa in order to solve a similar challenge in the capital of Veracruz, Mexico. MapMap, along with other open source tools, is available in open code on our Code for Development platform.
The Santiago pilot was a success. Combining local knowledge with IDB technical support, it was possible to map 29 urban routes, 25 branches of these routes and 6 state routes in just 5 days. One of the most important results of the collective mapping was the design of the first transit map of Santiago based on crowdsourced data.
The result: Santiago's crowdsourced public transport system map
In the future, the data will be available for anyone to use, being governments, civil society organizations or businesses. In this way, Santiago de los Caballeros also became the first city in the Caribbean where digitized information of its public transport will be available, converted to the GTFS format - a standard used by transport agencies throughout the world - and used by search engines like Google.
DATUM: the future of mobility in Latin America
The lack of public transport information is not a problem only in Santiago, but rather a common problem of medium-sized and growing cities around the world. How can we facilitate the collection of community data and public use in urban mobility for more cities?
In collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Columbia University in New York, the World Resources Institute of Mexico, MasterCard and the network of 100 resilient cities, the IDB created a knowledge network on policies, data and mobility, focused on cities in Latin America and the Caribbean.
This open data initiative for transport and mobility seeks to bring collaborative methodologies and free software tools to governments and civil society organizations interested in mapping public transport routes in their cities, and generate the information necessary for planning, as well as creating spaces for citizen participation.
This portal will be an exchange forum for mobility planners that will include the experiences, methodologies and tools used in several success cases throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, such as the one in Santiago de los Caballeros, so that other cities in the region may take advantage of it in their information-gathering processes.
WHAT IS CODE FOR DEVELOPMENT?
At the IDB, we subscribe to the idea that software is a knowledge product that can be shared. That's why we launched Code for Development, an initiative that provides a platform to share open-source software and other resources, and to connect with diverse collaborators who support the vision that software is a public good.
Code for Development provides access to applications, algorithms, spreadsheets, and other useful digital tools that address specific challenges. You can find software with different functions such as data analysis, content management, record management, image processing and others. Our vision is that, when these tools are adapted and reused, they have the potential to promote economic and social development of Latin America and the Caribbean.