A Map by the People, for the People

The advocacy campaign Ma’an Nasel recently released Amman’s first ever comprehensive public transportation map. This is a significant development in terms of helping people navigate the city and showcasing what true urban activism can achieve.

By Hazem Zureiqat

Ma’an Nasel's recently released public transportation map for Amman

On March 7, the first comprehensive, user-designed public transport map for Amman was unveiled. Like other transit maps around the world, the map—called Khutoutna, Arabic for ‘our routes’—is schematic, representing the city’s complex public transport network and perhaps even more complex road network in an abstract, colorful form. It includes large buses, coasters, and serveeces (shared white taxis) and highlights major landmarks, bus stations, and corridors.

The map was created by Ma’an Nasel, a public transport advocacy group, launched by the Taqaddam Platform, a progressive civil society non-profit. (Full disclosure: I’m founding member of both Ma’an Nasel and Taqaddam and an Executive Committee member in the latter.)

The significance of the map is twofold. It’s an important and long-awaited product that will surely improve—even if only modestly—the user’s experience on public transport in Amman. And secondly, it is a purely citizen-driven initiative and wasn’t developed by any official agency.

Public transport in Amman suffers a myriad of challenges. The system hasn’t caught up with the city’s growth over the past few decades and offers a lower quality of service than what is expected in a metropolis of four million people. Things are slowly beginning to change, but solutions that are promoted by government often involve only big infrastructure projects that have a relatively high cost and take some time to complete (in addition to regulatory reform, like what we have seen in the recent passing of the new transport legislation).

One key challenge that has often been overlooked, and that’s easier and less costly to tackle, is the lack of user information. This challenge has been overlooked for various reasons, among which is the protectionist culture in our government agencies concerning basic data like public transport routes. This data is readily available but has mostly been used for regulatory and enforcement purposes, like issuing licenses for operators or making sure a driver doesn’t deviate from his route. Offering data to the people in a user-friendly format, although attempted by some agencies on a number of occasions, has never truly materialized.

The seeds for Khutoutna started about a year-and-a-half ago, when Peter Damrosch, then a teacher at King’s Academy in Madaba, decided to use different buses, coasters, and services and manually tracked their routes on his smartphone. He then uploaded the data to his blog—entitled “Mapping Amman”—and was later joined by other volunteers who did the same.

I introduced Peter to Ma’an Nasel, which then adopted the project, expanded the volunteer base to include students, regular bus users, and others, and continued the data collection exercise. We ended up with a database of close to 100 routes, with information on start and termination points, major stops, and the rough schedule for each.

Then came the design phase—converting the geographic map to a schematic map. SYNTAX, a local design and branding company, volunteered to lead this task. The team looked at public transport maps from all over the world, noting how different cities and their landmarks were represented, how routes and terminals were drawn, and how areas and streets with a high density of routes were depicted.

The challenges in the design stage were vast. Routes in Amman have no unified numbering scheme and stops are not enforced, so this required some improvising on the part of the designer.

The beta version of Khutoutna was released last month, along with an app which will soon develop into a full-fledged trip planner (allowing users to enter their desired origin and destination to obtain a list of suggested routes). It’s a beta version, because it still requires improvement. And this is where Ma’an Nasel is hoping users would step up, send their comments, and participate in the process of making the map better. As an unofficial product created by the people, engagement and feedback are key to success.

The print copy of the beta version is available in limited quantities. However, you can access the digital copy at www.maannasel.net/map or by downloading the app for iOS or Android.