Transit Data in Developing Countries

Living in PeruTo piggyback on Tuesday’s post about transit data in the rural US, I thought I would mention an article I read on MIT’s CoLab blog recently, Ms. Teresa Diaz, a Datera in Lima.  The CoLab is a center for planning and development within MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning focused on strengthening civic life in low-income communities.  Their blog, the CoLab Radio, is a place where people involved in these efforts can share ideas and projects.  Sebastio Ferreira, one of the contributors, is creating a 52-post, 52-week long photo journal as a way to stay in touch with CoLab after completing 5 years as a fellow with MIT and returning to his home in Lima, Peru. Posts 4 and 4.5 chronicle the story of transit data, dateros and Teresa Diaz.  In Lima, there is no centralized planning agency setting the schedules for public buses.  Instead, self-employed “data guys” or dateros manually track when buses come to a certain stop and how full their buses are.  They then sell this information to bus drivers for 5 or 10 cents who use it to time their departures and speeds so as to maximize the amount of passengers they’ll find at the next stop.

Could this effort be enhanced with the use of mobile phones?  With at least 1 in 2 people having access to a mobile phone in developing countries, it seems there is potential.  SMS-style messages could make the spread of this data more real time.  However, because of the current self-employment structure, this work currently financially supports a segment of the population, which could be lost if the system were to become more formalized.  Thoughts?

- Terra Curtis