Cote d'Ivoire: Beating Abidjan's Traffic By Sending an SMS

Sick of Monday morning traffic? Or, for that matter, gridlock any other day? Thanks to CivRoute, a project initiated by four tech-savvy Ivorians, driving has become a more efficient, less stressful experience. That's crucial for this country with limited roads, but a rising number of cars and subsequent congestion.

"I was once stuck in major gridlock when driving a sick friend to the hospital," recalls Cyriac Gbogou, a 32-year-old blogger and social entrepreneur. "It then occurred to me that, had I been informed in advance, I could have avoided the traffic jam. Fortunately, we managed to get to the hospital in time to save my friend's life."

Gbogou is one of the pioneers of CivRoute, a website born from the frustration of being constantly stuck in Abidjan's traffic jams. When he came up with the idea of using information technology and social media to deal with this everyday problem, he decided to work with friends.

Lucky for him, his friends-turned-colleagues were no strangers to technology. Israël Yoroba, 30, is a journalist and blogger. Twenty-year-old Maryana Lym is responsible for updating CivRoute's content. Manassé Dehe, a 26-year-old web developer, sorts the data and takes care of geo-localization and authentication issues before positing information to the project's website and in related networks.

How it works

Summarizing how it works, Gbogou explains: "CivRoute relies on crowdsourcing. We get the people to participate in the project. Teamwork is at the heart of this project." Via SMS, email, Facebook and Twitter, hundreds of contributors, often anonymous, send road updates to the CivRoute server.

Christiane Apo, a switchboard operator at a local firm, is one such contributor. "I often SMS road updates to CivRoute for other road users to freely benefit from, since I also use the same services at no cost," she explains.

Paul Kouamé, who delivers freshly baked bread across the city, is proof that up-to-date traffic information benefits business. "National road agencies scarcely inform commuters about ongoing road works, which considerably slows down traffic," he says. "One has to visit the CivRoute website to find out. Therefore, it is very useful because one can use the information to calculate an alternate route and make the delivery on time."

Souleymane Bakayoko, a 31-year-old taxi driver in Abidjan, agrees. "Because the information is updated in real time, it gives the driver peace of mind and takes away the stress connected to wasting time," he says. Bakayoko adds that he regularly checks traffic updates before driving off in search of clients.

Room for improvement

Léandre Sié, a 29-year-old bookkeeper at an Abidjan restaurant, is among some who point to CivRoute's limitations. But her criticism is constructive.

"If CivRoute had an integrated voice-guiding function, drivers would focus more on the road and would not have to constantly look at their phone or tablet screens," she says.

Despite their small means, the CivRoute quartet dreams big. They plan to integrate dynamic options into the project and soon broadcast traffic updates via radio stations around the capital. Before they can do that, however, they need to secure serious investors.

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