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IBM maps improved Nairobi traffic flow

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A team of IBM top experts assigned to Nairobi have provided a cohesive framework and roadmap to the city to improve the flow of road traffic and increase revenues from the transportation sector.

The recommendations complement Nairobi’s considerable ongoing investment in underlying roadway infrastructure. They include making traffic information more readily available to citizens, motorists, police, policymakers and planners so that better transportation decisions can be made in the near and far term.

The blueprint presented by the IBM team also includes suggestions for using available technologies, including mobile phones, sensors and closed-circuit television, to more automatically pinpoint traffic issues. In the recommended plan, parking and licensing would also be digitized and automated — streamlining bureaucratic processes and increasing citizen satisfaction. The plan prescribes enhanced collaboration between various transport bodies.

The IBM team, which performed several months of preparation before spending three weeks in local residence, studied Nairobi’s transportation system as part of an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant valued at Sh33 million (US$400,000), announced in March of this year.

“A city is a system of systems. One key finding of the study is that technology could provide a relatively simple way of bringing together existing systems to streamline the city’s transport sector and increase revenues for the government,” says Tony Mwai, country GM of IBM East Africa.

Despite impressive investments in building road networks, inefficiencies within the city’s transport sector cost Nairobi an estimated Sh50 million per day, negating revenues and commercial benefits from otherwise significant road infrastructure, and limiting the region’s economic growth.

“The government has made immense investments in infrastructure over the last 10 years but we are challenged by the fact that many departments within government are working in isolation and not collaborating,” says Dr Bitange Ndemo, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communications.

“We will review these recommendations made by the IBM team with a view to fast-tracking them to help maintain Nairobi’s position as a key regional economic hub,” Dr Ndemo says.

The team of IBM consultants recommended the creation of a cross-departmental Smarter Transportation Authority that would harness initiatives taking place across government agencies under a single unit.

This would allow for faster rollout of decongestion plans, enhancing revenue collection for government agencies and tightening enforcement of traffic rules.

In addition, the IBM consultants advised the development of a Smarter Transportation Platform with an intelligent operations command centre, leveraging existing and new closed-circuit television networks that show vehicle, traffic and roadway conditions as events unfold.

Enabling stakeholders such as citizens and police to view these video feeds online would lead to a decrease in traffic congestion by allowing commuters to plan their trips accordingly and police to allocate manpower more efficiently.

Another suggestion was to integrate data from multiple sources, including mobile phone signals generated from citizens stuck in traffic jams, to pin-point traffic hot-spots. Analytics software could then be used to predict future flow issues, pushing the information needed to re-direct traffic to the intelligent operations centre.

The team also suggested digitizing parking for the speed and ease of finding parking spaces, to minimize congestion and to reduce environmental impact as well as using mobile devices to empower traffic police to monitor and manage traffic offenders through an intelligent enforcement solution.

The team’s findings follow the recent launch of an IBM research report titled “A Vision of a Smarter City: How Nairobi Can Lead the Way into a Prosperous and Sustainable Future,” which highlights transportation, energy and public safety as three critical areas that the city must address in order to boost its economic competitiveness.

Nairobi beat 140 other cities around the world to become one of IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge winners in March. Launched in 2011, the IBM initiative is a three-year, 100-city $50-million programme and is IBM’s single-largest philanthropic outreach.