Flocksourcing: Using “Flocks” + Mobile Phones to Create the First Bus Map of Dhaka
Urban Launchpad, a “social-venture dedicated to building open urban info-structures in places around the world that need it most” recently received funding through Kickstarter to create the first bus map of Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Millions of people ride the bus everyday in Dhaka — but there is no formal public bus system. Riders use an informal network of privately operated independent services. There are very few bus stops and no explanatory signage. Riders must jump on and off the bus while it is moving — all while avoiding the chaotically crowded streets which are full of people, cars, and rickshaws.
Urban Launchpad’s goal is to maintain a low rate of car use in Dhaka (currently at 1%) and they hope to accomplish this by improving the bus system. They believe that information can be “a powerful catalyst for improving service in general” and so the first step towards improvement is to provide information about buses to riders.
They teamed up with Kewkradong to collect data about the buses. Using smartphones, they tracked 270 buses on two lines. They also surveyed 1000 people. They were able to collect data on routes, travel times, crowd levels, as well as information about riders and what makes them happy. This was just a pilot. The goal of the Kickstarter campaign (which was a success!) was to raise money to scale up the pilot to cover the entire network of buses in Dhaka and use the data to create something useful for riders.
Urban Launchpad will be creating paper maps (printed locally in Dhaka) that are pocket-sized for individuals as well as larger formats to be posted in public gathering spaces. However, these pieces are just the beginning — the team hopes to use the data they collect to create bus stop signs and bus tracking apps. This model also has the potential to be implemented in other cities around the world.
How does this project make the world a better place?
Urban Launchpad is taking initiative to provide a service not currently provided by the government or the private bus operators. But more importantly, they are providing this much-needed service in a format that makes sense for its users. Their initial pilot survey determined that few riders use smartphones, so they decided to create and distribute a paper map first.
Also, all the data that is collected will be openly available for anyone to “mash-up and visualize into other important insights for bus riders, operators and the city.”
Who is the intended audience?
The 5,000,000+ riders of buses in Dhaka
How can our audience extend the impact of this work?
There is a lot of talk about using data to make the world a better place, but not much talk about how to gather or generate the data in the first place. We often wait for government agencies to release data, as these institutions are often seen as the arbiters of information when it comes to data about our cities. This project should inspire all of us to think about ways in which we can generate the data we need, instead of waiting for a large institution to provide it to us. In this case the project developers used the concept of “flocksourcing,” whereby large groups of people with mobile phones can generate extremely useful urban data that can be turned into useful tools for city denizens.
Video and images from Kickstarter