Statistical Data Analysis

Kenyan roads desperately need actionable data

Transport slices through every sector of any economy. Having the best infrastructure to transport goods and people is the building block of any city. Yet the slow pace of development of transport infrastructure in Africa has seen a lot of pain in the transport industry.

According to statistics, a motorist in Nairobi spends on average three hours in traffic, every day. The Nairobi County Councils estimates that this loss amounts to 40 billion Kenyan shillings ($400 million) economically, every year.

Ma3route, a crowdsourcing platform for reporting road status in Kenya, has come up with data sets that depict the real situation on Kenyan roads.

The company released its research on Nairobi roads recently showing danger points such as, which type of drivers cause the most accidents, and the percentage of pedestrian accidents.

Some insights are actually helpful to the authorities. For example, the research showed that 42% of pedestrian accidents happen a few metres from footbridges, meaning that most people do not like using the bridges.

Public service vehicles have also been reported as one of the major causes of accidents, as they affect a large part of the population.

Elizabeth Resor the Lead Researcher on the Nairobi Accident Map project, in collaboration with Ma3route, said that technology has definitely helped in gathering and analysing data.

“Technology makes data collection much more cost-effective and scalable, at least in the case of crowdsourcing,” she told IDG Connect.

“With technology, the data flows in as people report on their mobile devices, this data collection process costs nearly nothing, and there is no cost difference between crowdsourcing from 100 people and 100,000 people,” Resor said.

Leveraging technology could give the government an easier way to gather data. But it seems not to hold much weight for African bureaucrats.


Is the government listening?

Engineer Fernando Wangila, the Deputy Director at National Transport and Safety Authority, believes that government is not doing much in taking advantage of data and technology but hopes this will change soon.

At the recently held WhatsNext forum dealing with Mobility, Wangila and Principle Secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, Irungu Nyakera promised that the government is on its way to make use of data in the transport sector.

“Through the eCitizen platform over 1.5 million driving licenses have been renewed,” Wangila said. The platform has automated government processes such as driving license renewal and is about to also launch car registration and transfers.

Wangila indicated that the government is almost ready to reveal digital driving licenses and digitally registered car number plates that will be able to gather information on drivers and manage the transport sector.

“Some people take up to a year to receive a log book, but with the new system in place it will take 10 minutes to receive a log book,” he added.

Such systems will be a credible source to gather and retain data on drivers and their vehicles, and help catch those flaunting the rules.

Wangila went ahead and said they have over 240 data sets for every vehicle in Kenya and this would be a great resource to mine.

He added, however, that sometimes government bureaucracies hinder the speedy implementation of projects that could benefit the country.

“There are 15 changes I would like to bring to the government, but I have to look at the law. If you are asked for your driving license, you can use the USSD that we have put in place. The USSD will pick the information from the database. It is more accurate because you could get a fraudulent registration [in case of the physical licenses],” Wangila said.

On his part Nyakera added that the government is looking into implementing modern technology in transport management.

“In working towards this ambition the government is aligned to the central role that modern technology in the digital age will play,” Nyakera said.

Even with some wins, previous failures to implement the digital speed governors for long distance PSVs, and the debacle of the cashless transport payment within cities, cast a shadow of doubt on the processes needed to implement digital mechanisms in the transport sector.

Even though the speed governor system is supported by law, mismanagement and corruption in the transport sector means that many law breakers go scot free and more accidents related to over speeding are being recorded cross the country.

This means due to corruption technology would not be a silver bullet here.


Is collaboration the answer?

Governments might want to look at collaboration with the private entities such as Ma3route and other stakeholders to get a real sense of the situation on Kenyan roads.

“The NTSA has been enthusiastic about collaborating with Ma3Route and possibly sharing their own accident data so we can see where there are gaps and overlaps between the two,” Resor said.

“I hope we are able to make this happen because not only does this current dataset provide several useful insights for policies to improve road safety, it also could be a model for real-time data sharing that could improve responses to accidents as well.”

Roser added that the government might be grappling with the lack of skills and knowledge in the data science space and this could mean that the cogs of progress will turn slowly. It also fully depends on government policies. Once they realise the power of data, governments will have the will to put more resources in that sector.

“Government needs to see how they could be saving money with data-driven policies and either also invest in hiring people with the necessary technical skills or be willing to cooperate with outside organizations or companies that have those skills,” Roser said.

“I think in Kenya we will see pickup of data in government as individual members decide they are going to champion data. So rather than a widespread sea change I imagine it will be one department at a time, and as those early adapters are successful, others will join.”


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Vincent Matinde

Vincent Matinde is an international IT Journalist highlighting African innovations in the technology scene.

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