• Follow us


Building a Bus Map When There Are No Fixed Routes—or Stops

To ride a bus, you first must know where the bus is going and where it stops. But in Beirut, and in as many as 60 percent of the world’s urban places, there’s no transportation map. The Lebanese capital’s bus system, run by a constellation of private operators and drivers who change by the day, has no assigned stops.

So in 2017, students at the American University of Beirut formed a startup, funded by grants and sponsorships, called Yalla Bus. Its goal is to prod more students like them onto the city’s opaque and sometimes diresputable bus system. (Yalla means “Let’s go” in Arabic.) At first, the group wanted to create an app that might transmit real-time bus schedules straight to users’ phones. But they realized they needed something simpler first—a map.

“We wanted to do something to help reduce traffic, help the environment, help people get around in something cheaper than taxis or than having a car, because some people can't afford one,” says Yara Nassar, now a former AUB student with Yalla Bus.

To pull off their map, the group did the logical thing: They started by taking the bus and routing paths by hand. Then they talked to drivers about their routes. They visited the owners of the bus fleets that operate in the city, and convinced them to allow the startup to mount GPS trackers on their vehicles. Last month, after two years of work, Yalla Bus rolled out its bus map online. It also went analog, printing and distributing around 3,000 paper copies at the city’s universities.

This month, Yalla Bus published its map of Beirut's informal bus system.

Yalla Bus

The AUB students are not the only ones mapping informal bus systems. A civic tech group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says more than half of the world’s big cities lack transportation maps. In the past five years, volunteer mapping enthusiasts in cities including Cairo; [Managua], Nicaragua (https://www.mapanica.net/); Amman, Jordan; Nairobi, Kenya; and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia have taken to routes all over their cities to put what already exists onto paper, or into computer data, to be crunched or analyzed. (Lebanon even has another, earlier volunteer mapping group, BusMap.me.) Many of these groups hope to one day use the information they glean to get the attention of local or national authorities—and to use their data to improve the overall transportation systems.

Creating a map doesn’t impose order on the system. Quite the opposite, the volunteer cartographers say. Sarah Williams, a professor of technology and urban planning at MIT, started working in 2012 with local groups and universities in Nairobi to map the city’s popular but privatized minibus “matatu” system. She now works to create digital tools to help other grassroots organizations pull off similar projects across the world. “These bus systems are sometimes considered so informal and rogue, but the maps show that there is an order,” she says. “There is, in fact, a system, and the system could be used to help plan new transportation initiatives.”

The maps and data have allowed some of these informal bus systems to tap into government resources—and private ones. That’s exactly what’s happened in Nairobi, where since 2014 the Kenya National Highways Authority has collaborated with NGOs like the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and UN-Habitat to use the matatu mapping project’s data to create plans and recommendations for a bus rapid transit system in the nation’s capital. The Nairobi project also worked to ensure that its data was in the right format to slot into other digital tools, like Google Maps. Today, riders in the city can use the app to track bus times the same way they might in cities with formalized transit systems like New York, Berlin, or Tokyo.

Something similar happened in Amman, after a coalition of progressive groups in 2014 created an initiative called Maan Nasel (“Together, we will arrive”). The goal was to get more people to ride the 75 or so bus, minibus, or routed taxi lines in the city and its suburbs, and also to make the system more navigable to the roughly 14 percent of city residents who already used it, according to the group. “We found that even regular users would use public transport only for their regular trips, like going to work. If they wanted to make a different trip, they wouldn't know which routes to take, so they would just take a taxi,” says Hazem Zureiqat, a volunteer with Maan Nasel who is also a full-time transportation consultant.

Jordanian volunteer mapping group Maan Nasal published a schematic map of Amman's informal bus routes in 2016.

Maan Nasel

The group knew that the Amman government had limited data on the services that operated in the city. (It was, after all, the body handing out official operating licences.) But the group was unable to get hold of that information. So Maan Nasel volunteers grabbed their smartphones, hopped on the buses, and used tracking apps to map their trips. Amman’s system also has no bus stops, so after uploading the data the group had to create some, outlining where riders might stand to hail a ride. The group also created its own route numbering system, to help riders differentiate between buses.

By 2016, Maan Nasel had rolled out its first map of the transit system, a colorful spaghetti schematic that sprawls beyond the capital and into other parts of Jordan. The visualization has surprised many residents. “I’ve shown our map to so many people, and they look at it and say, ‘This is great. Is this going to be implemented?’” says Zureiqat. “They think it’s some futuristic system, but it actually exists today.”

Today, the group works closely with the Jordanian government, which has taken a new interest in public transport and adopted the informal bus mapping project as its own. The next step, to begin this summer: The group will start mounting trackers on the buses, to stream real-time routing information. It wants to build an app.

In Beirut, the government so far has been happy to let volunteer mapping organizations do the work of collecting and maintaining data, says Nassar, of Yalla Bus. And the bus system still has its problems. It can be slow and unpredictable, and the vehicles are not always well maintained. Many students would still rather use their phones to hail a ride through Uber or Careem, or drive themselves. By the end of this year, Yalla Bus would also like to roll out its own bus app, so students can use their phones to find another way around the city.

More Great WIRED StoriesWhy I (still) love tech: In defense of a difficult industry“Heartbeat” bills get the science all wrongInside China's massive surveillance operationPro tips for shopping safe on Amazon“If you want to kill someone, we are the right guys”🏃🏽‍♀️ Want the best tools to get healthy? Check out our Gear team's picks for the best fitness trackers, running gear (including shoes and socks), and best headphones.📩 Get even more of our inside scoops with our weekly Backchannel newsletterRead More

Leave A Comment

More News


Electric Buses, Quiet Tires, and More Car News 2019-06-09 09:00:00Why haven't electric buses caught on? And how does Mattel shrink car designs to make Hot Wheels?

Lyft's Lawsuit Against San Francisco Is Bigger Than 2019-06-07 18:28:35Lyft's bike-share company, Motivate, had an exclusive contract with the city for its docked bike program. But if San Francisco allows a dockless bike

Why Electric Buses Haven't Taken Over the World—Yet 2019-06-07 09:48:28Here’s what stands between you and a cleaner commute.

This Startup Wants to Remake the Last Mile 2019-06-06 09:00:00Boxbot is building self-driving delivery vans, plus an automatic loading system. Humans would still help when needed to open gates or climb stairs.

Bridgestone’s Turanza QuietTrack Tire Silences Electric Cars 2019-06-05 07:00:00The new rubber has specially designed threads to hush the pesky "pattern noise" that's especially noticeable in cars without loud engines.

How Mattel Shrinks Cars Into Hot Wheels (Crash 2019-06-04 07:00:00Before a Hot Wheels car hits a store shelf, it must pass the "launcher on speed 2" test, and the "side slam launcher" test, among others.

What a Bay Area Dispute Says About the 2019-06-03 07:00:00Lyft's Motivate has exclusive bike-share contracts with several cities. San Francisco officials are debating what "exclusive" means.

Hybrid Ferraris! Flying Cars! And More Car News 2019-06-02 09:00:00Plus: You can now pay for some NYC subway rides with your iPhone, but the system is about more than just fast taps.

New York Transit Edges Into a Future Without 2019-05-31 07:00:00Beginning Friday, you can get into select subway stations by waving your phone. By 2023, MetroCards will go the way of the token.

Ferrari’s 986-HP Hybrid, Disney’s Message to Georgia, and 2019-05-30 19:32:10Catch up on the most important news from today in two minutes or less.

Flying Car Startup Alaka'i Bets Hydrogen Outdoes Batteries 2019-05-30 13:53:20The new aviation player is showing off a boxy electric six-rotor air taxi powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

Ferrari’s Latest Goes 211 MPH With 986 HP—and 2019-05-30 08:00:00The SF90 Stradale is Ferrari’s most powerful production vehicle: a plug-in hybrid electric that goes 0 to 62 mph in 2.5 seconds.

Automotive News Breaking

Meet the father of the Polestar 1 New! 2019-06-18 12:50:44When Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath picked Joakim Rydholm to be the lead development engineer for the company’s first model as a stand-alone bran

How Volvo's Polestar is getting its debut model New! 2019-06-18 12:45:05The Polestar 1’s initial production run will reach the Volvo subsidiary’s first customers later this year, which explains the intense amou

U.S. trade rep hopes Congress approves USMCA legislation New! 2019-06-18 10:44:27USTR Robert Lighthizer, at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Finance committee, continued his bid for lawmakers to prepare to ratify the United States-Mexi

Trump says he'll have 'extended' meeting with China's New! 2019-06-18 10:31:09Confirmation of the meeting comes after President Trump repeatedly threatened to raise tariffs if Xi didn’t sit with him at the June 28-29 summi

Search suspended for missing auto journalist New! 2019-06-18 10:18:08The search Saturday focused on the Mokelumne River Canyon, logging more than 448 miles on foot, in addition to efforts via boat and helicopter.

VW steps up software push with 'vw.os' operating New! 2019-06-18 08:53:32VW said all its new models would use the "vw.os," platform and the Volkswagen Automotive Cloud by 2025.

Ford takes regulator for a spin in bid New! 2019-06-18 08:48:14Ford and other carmakers such as BMW and Toyota don’t want to lose the rights they gained in 1999 from the FCC for a system designed to lin

VW explores move from longtime suburban Detroit office New! 2019-06-18 08:23:23VW is exploring several options for its office north of Detroit. It could move elsewhere in the northern Detroit suburbs, it could develop a new offic

Nvidia partners with truckmaker AB Volvo for driverless New! 2019-06-18 07:27:25The deal to develop a self-driving system for commercial vehicles is a boost for Nvidia, which parted ways with Tesla last year. 

VW defends launch of high-priced 'mass-market' EV New! 2019-06-18 06:28:02VW said its ID3 will be an electric car "for the millions and not the millionaires." But the ID3 will not be immediately become a car for the masses

FCA leans toward Trump as industry agonizes over 2019-06-17 11:53:51Fiat Chrysler, in written statements to regulators, said it agrees with one of the Trump administration’s central arguments: Stricter fuel-

Domino's brings self-driving pizza delivery pilot to Houston 2019-06-17 09:29:57Domino's said the test is scheduled to start late this year and could expand in 2020. Domino’s has more than 6,000 restaurants in the U.S. and,

Motor Trend

2019 Volkswagen Golf: Why I’d Buy It – 2019-06-15 04:00:56“What car should I buy?” It’s a question consumers ask themselves every day, but what would online editor Kelly Pleskot drive? Keep

2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD Is More Truck for 2019-06-14 19:21:26Chevrolet has announced pricing for the 2020 Silverado HD, and despite offering greater capability and technology than the model it replaces, the heav

Refreshing or Revolting: 2020 Kia Telluride vs. Toyota 2019-06-14 16:21:37Kia finally entered the three-row SUV market when it introduced the Telluride this spring. One of its most formidable competitors will be the upcoming

Best Father’s Day Gifts for Your Car-Loving Dad 2019-06-14 13:45:31My first memory behind the wheel is of steering my father’s 1998 Ford Taurus down our little dead end street and turning into our driveway. Noti

What Car Should I Buy? MotorTrend Editors Pick 2019-06-14 09:30:36In today’s SUV-saturated market, cars—that is, sedans, hatchbacks, and coupes—are increasingly rare. Even so, that doesn’t sto

Hot Wheels ID Is the Classic Toy Reimagined 2019-06-14 09:00:26I can’t remember how I got it, but I can vividly recall my very first Hot Wheels. It was a red double-headed dragon on four chrome wheels. I rem

Here’s Every Tesla We’ve Tested So Far 2019-06-14 04:00:32We can largely thank Tesla for making electric vehicles exciting. From the original Roadster to the more practical and mass-market Model 3, Tesla hasn

2020 Mercedes GLB-Class: 5 Things You Should Know 2019-06-14 04:00:25At Mercedes-Benz’s press drive of its new 2020 GLS-Class (stay tuned for the review), the German brand used the opportunity to show U.S. journal

Tested: Is the Genesis G70 Still a Driver’s 2019-06-14 04:00:22Here’s a story you’ve heard before: “[Upstart manufacturer] creates sports sedan to take on the BMW 3 Series.” It’s a ta

2019 Honda Accord Hybrid: Why I’d Buy It 2019-06-14 04:00:09“What car should I buy?” It’s a question consumers ask themselves every day, but what would senior production editor Zach Gale drive

2019 Subaru Crosstrek Limited: Why I’d Buy It 2019-06-08 04:00:46“What SUV should I buy?” It’s a question consumers ask themselves every day, but what would associate online editor Collin Woodard d

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 and GLC 63 Review: 2019-06-07 18:01:26Midcycle product updates are tricky. Capital is typically limited, so you can’t do much with the sheetmetal or engineering bits. But you need yo

Automotive news - from

Renault again gives Zoe longer legs 2019-06-17 08:48:00Renault has given its little Zoe EV a third update with 52 kWh battery and an additional 100kW R135 electric motor option and boosted range to 24

VW plans 10% partial IPO for Traton unit 2019-06-17 08:31:00Volkswagen Group is planning a 10% stake listing for its Traton commercial vehicle unit. The IPO could raise up to EUR1.9bn for VW. Traton is VW's co

Continental Romania spends EUR27m expanding Iasi office building 2019-06-17 08:28:00Continental Romania said it was spending EUR27m to expand its office building in Iasi.

Bridgestone introduces lightweight tyre technology 2019-06-17 08:16:00Bridgestone has announced the launch of Enliten, a new light weight tyre technology claimed to reduce material use and rolling resistance, contribute

Unions agree to revised Renault-Samsung pay deal 2019-06-17 07:39:00Renault Samsung Motors agreed a wage deal with its labour union last week, bringing to an end months of industrial action which has resulted in produc

SAIC China sales slump 2019-06-17 07:11:00Chinese carmaker SAIC Motor reported a sharp sales decline in the first five months of 2019, of close to 17% to 2.47 million units, according to a com

Kyocera and BYD Japan to collaborate on EV 2019-06-17 07:09:00Kyocera and BYD Japan have announced a joint project to develop an integrated renewable supply-demand energy system for EVs.

JAC acquires Kazakhstan's Allur Group 2019-06-17 06:57:00JAC has successfully participated in the acquisition of the shares of Kazakhstan's Allur Group, marking the entry of the JAC Kazakhstan project into

Veoneer acquires Nissin Kogyo's interests in US VNBS 2019-06-17 06:36:00ADAS specialist Veoneer says it has signed a binding agreement with Nissin Kogyo, its joint venture partner in Veoneer Nissin Brake Systems (VNBS), pr

Nissan reports strong sales of e-LCV in UK 2019-06-17 06:25:00Nissan in the UK reports sales of its Nissan e-NV200 fully electric light van up by 200% in 2019 as more firms switch their light commercial vehicle (

Geely's LEVC spins van off range extender London 2019-06-17 05:54:00Geely-owned London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC) - the latest name for Britain's main 'London Taxi' maker has spun off a PHEV light van base

Localising X3 gives BMW China a boost 2019-06-14 12:01:00Localisation works, according to a Bloomberg report from China.

Disclaimer and Notice:WorldProNews.com is not responsible of these news or any information published on this website.