Ma’an Nasel, the public transport campaign group that I helped found, recently launched its own app. It has a feature that allows users to enter starting and ending points in Amman to obtain public transport routes they can take to get to their destinations. It covers the city’s large buses, medium Coaster buses, and white “servees” taxis.
The app comes as part of a volunteer-driven effort that started over two years ago, during which the group also launched a printed public transport map. Both the map and app are dubbed Khutoutna, Arabic for “our routes.” The name symbolizes the popular nature of the initiative, where citizens are taking ownership and taking charge of making a difference on the ground.
Data on the various routes included in both the map and app were collected by volunteers using their smartphones. Each volunteer rode a different route, turned on the tracking feature on their phones, and started recording the data. Turning the data into a map involved many challenges, which I had highlighted in an article on Venture back when the map was published last year.
The app, on the other hand, involved its own set of challenges. A big part of planning a trip is knowing the time you need to leave to arrive at a particular time. This is how trip planning apps work in cities with more organized public transport systems. For our app, however, we had to do away with that piece of information. We just tell the user to take route X, then switch to route Y, and walk a few hundred meters. Schedules are nonexistent in Amman, and frequencies, even if mandated on certain routes, are not enforced.
Other trip planning apps also tell you to walk from your starting point to the nearest bus stop—a clearly marked stop with either a street sign or a bus shelter. In Amman, formal bus stops are there, but they are few and far between. They are also not enforced. One can ‘hail’ a public transport bus to get on or, if on the bus, tap on the window with a coin or yell “drop me off here!” to get off. To deal with this, we added ‘virtual stops’ on the app—every 200 meters or so (in addition to the formal bus stops, of course), so don’t be surprised if the app directs you from your home to an arbitrary point on the main street.
Public transport in Jordan faces so many other challenges, and the whole system needs a revamp. This app was launched in spite of those challenges and aims to at least make the current system—as dysfunctional as it may be—a bit more accessible and easier to use.
Available on iOS and Android in both Arabic and English, the app also highlights the value of opening up data sources to volunteers and entrepreneurs—a topic which I had addressed in an earlier article. Although GAM provided Ma’an Nasel with its route data, that came a bit too late, after all the data had been collected manually.
Funded by 350.org and supported by various other organizations, the app was developed by the local company Not Another Fruit. Ma’an Nasel will continue maintaining and updating the app this year, through the Center for the Study of the Built Environment and with support from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The campaign wants to provide the data it has collected to other developers who can, in turn, use it on their own apps to develop more solutions.
It should be noted that Ma’an Nasel was launched in 2014 by the Taqaddam Platform and Tahawul, with support from various other institutions. Through its efforts in advocacy, lobbying, and developing solutions, the campaign aims at making public transport a national priority in the Kingdom.