Using Cell Phones to Map Informal Transit

Digital Matatus uses cell phone technology to map informal transit routes in developing countries and shares this data at no cost to help improve citizen services.

Using cell phone technology, Digital Matatus has collected detailed information on 3,000 stops of the 130 routes that make up Nairobi’s informal transit system. The data has been translated into physical and digital maps and uploaded to Google Maps, making it the first informal transit system searchable in Google Transit.
Making this data understandable enables riders to take more efficient, better-planned journeys and permits city officials to better manage road networks, maintenance schedules, and traffic congestion, all of which are crucial for a well-functioning and efficient urban transit network. After its successful run in Nairobi, Digital Matatus plans to expand to other fast-growing cities in the developing world.

Relevance of solution

In 2014, 40% of Africa’s population lived in urban areas, but by 2050 this figure will rise to 56%.1  Such rapid urbanization will require efficient transportation systems. By mapping informal transit routes and sharing this information openly, Digital Matatus makes it easier for residents and city officials alike to better navigate and manage urban transportation networks and traffic flows.

Triple Bottom Line


As road traffic is responsible for about 75% of transportation CO2 emissions globally, creating more streamlined road networks with less congestion can have great environmental benefits. 2


Digital Matatus’ mapping hopes to reduce commute times, which can reach well over an hour for many Nairobi residents. 3 


Reducing traffic congestion, which costs the Nairobi economy $578,000 a day in lost productivity, can facilitate economic growth. 4


  1. UN. “World Urbanization Prospects.” (2014)
  2. International Energy Agency. “CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion – Highlights.” (2014)
  3. ITDP. “Matatus and Mass Transit: ITDP Studies Transit Patterns in Nairobi, Kenya.” (2013)
  4. Bloomberg. “Traffi c Costs Nairobi $570,000 a Day as No. 2 Africa Hub.” (2014)