Traffic Updates by SMS in Nigeria

eNowNow is a service in Nigeria where anyone with a mobile phone can sign up to receive updates on traffic conditions in different areas around Lagos.

How it Works

Traffic via SMS in Lagos Nigeria - mapArmed with a mobile phone, a team of 4-6 motorcyclists ride to different, pre-designate parts of the city. They take pictures of the current traffic conditions and MMS that image to the central office. That image is then geolocated and given a score of “slow”, “moving” or “free”. Anyone who has signed up for SMS or email alerts is then sent a message with the traffic update.

Challenges

I asked Simon, one of the people putting the service into action, what some of their challenges are. His reply:

“Collecting information in this way, although not that technical (lots of people have said why not use stationary webcams it would be technically superior), is turning out to be more difficult than we expected. Finding people who can grasp the concept behind the service, ride well through the crazy Lagos traffic, and are reliable has been tricky, added to that we’ve had lots of issues around harassment and even arrests from the police (many police officers apparently believe you need special police permission to take photos of traffic) and just recently the weather has been in our way as the rainy season has just started in Lagos making operations more difficult and a few phones have been dropped in puddles! “

The business side

eNowNow doesn’t see much value in charging premium SMS rates for their services. They believe margins are low, and they don’t think the uptake would be high enough amongst their target market to make it work. Instead, they have plans to subsidize the service with revenues from licensing traffic information to Sat Nav providers and logistics companies.

“In Nigeria the networks will take anything between 40 and 75% of a premium SMS’s cost to a subscriber for themselves (pull or push) leaving you a tiny margin for profitability and driving the industry standard (and therefore what the networks will allow you) per SMS cost higher. Most people think that traffic only affects those in cars and they can therefore afford to pay for a service, but most of Lagos’ population aren’t in that bracket and those on public transport still have choices about which buses they take, which routes and what time they leave work.”

Thoughts and ideas

Maybe it’s because I’m a motorcycle fan, or maybe it’s because I have a deeply ingrained detestation for being stuck in traffic in Africa’s mega cities, but this application hits the sweet spot for me. I’ve been wanting just this type of thing in Nairobi for a long time…

One additional idea, to make this even more dynamic, and spread it over the whole city is to create a way for ordinary drivers to text into the system when they come across a new or growing traffic problem. I imagine that Lagos has areas with traffic that is not on the pre-designated points that eNowNow operates in currently.

This is a classic locally grown tech initiative, and I hope that they can pull it off. If so, it can definitely be replicated in other major metro markets across the continent.

15 thoughts on “Traffic Updates by SMS in Nigeria

  1. kiwanja

    Although using designated riders to provide real-time traffic information is a natural and sensible starting point, ultimately crowd-sourcing the information would seem to be the way to go (although it’s unlikely you could convince drivers to send in an MMS). I agree with you though, that the fact this is a locally grown initiative makes it all the more interesting.

    One small word of advice for eNowNow (love the name). Having had plenty of personal experience in Lagos traffic myself, would it not be easier for people to report where there *wasn’t* a traffic jam? :)

    Best of luck to the team behind this!

    Ken

  2. Brian Herbert

    I’m not sure crowd-sourcing is exactly the best way to go here, unless it’s only used as a supplement. Of course, it’s the cheapest solution and might be the best if you have willing participants. However, most people aren’t going to pull out their cell phone in traffic and send a text report. Also, any individual driver may not understand how far the traffic is backed up (is it backed up for 1 or 2km?).

    I think the best solution in this case, if there aren’t talented motorcyclists that can economically collect the data, is to fit minibuses with cheap GPS devices (~100-200 USD). These would relay the data back to the website that could update the maps in real time.

    Given the cost of building such a network, it would probably be best to use a combination of user generated reports, personnel on the ground and technology like this to create a comprehensive report.

  3. zulusafari

    Hash – I have been looking for a really good reason to buy a motorbike in Niarobi. Just call me up and I’ll get those pics of traffic for you :)

    I think putting GPSs in 100 matatues in Nairobi could work. You could just take data for a full month of what ‘normal’ traffic flow is. Then you compare this avg data with data on the fly from the matatu GPS as it does its normal route. Instead of the system noting the speed of traffic, it would be relative to what is normal. It would be nice if this system could even note averages by the hour and not just the daily average (otherwise it might not be that helpful).

  4. Henry Addo

    Not sure how the GPS thingy works but how would it know at this point in time and at the location its, there is much traffic. How accurate could the data be?

    I see crowd-sourcing as a better option though, If eNowNow could figure a way to motivate people to send in traffic reports, it will be great and the cheapest and more data will flow in since anyone with a mobile phone can report.

    Like Brian Herbert said in the later part of his comment, a combination of these will be the best.

  5. imnakoya

    Interesting idea… :)

    There is something about roads, driving and texting that just don’t jive well together, if you ask me. And I thought traffic updates are being rendered by Lagos radio stations…?

  6. Simon mcIntyre

    Thanks for the interest in the service and the suggestions, to answer a few things that people have considered

    1) Crowd Sourcing is on our list of items to implement. People here already crowd source information socially regualrly getting in touch with friends, family members etc to report especially bad or out of the usual patterns of traffic (major accidents etc). The key challenge for any technology solution here is to replicate that social nature of information in the electronic realm, we’ve not cracked it yet but we’re getting there.
    2) GPS is something we’re looking into, there are a number of tracked fleets in Lagos and we’re actually already in discussions with a few people around using this data to log average speeds on certain roads. It’s not a complicated tehchnical challenge but it is a more complicated data sharing and access challenge.
    3) In the end I suspect we will use a combination of solutions as has been sugested, GPS for speed of updates, our own network of collectors for specific incidents, data from Lagos State’s own people and we hope one day information from Lagos State’s CCTV network.
    4) Yes radio stations to provide limited traffic information, much of it comes from teh Lagos State Traffic Management Authorty (LASMA) we are also in talks with them about combining their internal data with the service. Again they tend to report incidents though, not the speed of traffic, plus it just looks cool overlaid on the map and you can’t visualise on the radio.

  7. Oguns

    Yes i agree a combination of the various mean will mean delivering a good information and if its useful for me today, i will be willing to pull out my phone and send a traffic info in an sms to eNowNow.com since i know some one somewhere will do the same and might help my movement around the city…great ideal!

  8. Mbugua Njihia

    “In Nigeria the networks will take anything between 40 and 75% of a premium SMS’s cost to a subscriber for themselves (pull or push) leaving you a tiny margin for profitability and driving the industry standard (and therefore what the networks will allow you) per SMS cost higher. ”
    makes me go grrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!

    the idea of gps on taxis etc sounds workable, just gave us an idea of an additional module for Sembuse in the future. Crowdsourced and gps info would make the info more accurate.Maybe the firms that own all these billboards at roundabouts could invest in cams that allow them to monitor and they can them supply this info to interested parties, say a call center where pple would call or a traffic info service that updates route information every 5 minutes.If its a call the charge could be a one of flat fee for every call to an automated sys.

    ….just my thoughts

  9. Brian Herbert

    I’m really enjoying this discussion! I would like to see some collaboration between the radio station and anyone implementing this technology. Still, most people get their information from the radio and having them report on slower moving traffic, and not just specific traffic incidents, would be a great way to disseminate information.

  10. Simon Smethurst-McIntyre

    We’re actually going to be collaborating with beat 99.9 FM and Classic 97 FM. Listen out for it on the next few weeks.

    In conjuction with them we’ll also be launching an FM RDS Traffic Management Channel service for sat nav devices in the near future.

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  12. Charles Ugwuh

    This service is DOA! It only makes sense when you have a flurry of alternative routes that can be used e.g. when you can go off highway to local roads that might be freer (even though they’ll be governed by more traffic lights).

    However, anyone who lives in Lagos knows that this isn’t the case. If I live in Ajah, and you provide a service that tells me there’s slow traffic from before Palms Shopping Center to Lekki Phase II, what exactly are my options? And being everyone knows what time rush hour is, they kill time in the vicinity and start their home commute later in the day from 9pm.

    So why exactly would I pay for this? What’s the value I get from a service telling me about a traffic situation I already know will be there, and I can do nothing about? I think it’s one of those services that sounds very ingenious in implementation, but the logistics are daunting, and the consumer uptake is just not there because it’s just not needed (that much).

    I would suggest that you refocus the service to something folks might actually think of paying for, like real estate listings, visual classifieds, entertainment and buzz, etc.

  13. Ojulari Hakeem

    Actually I had the same intention last year concerning traffic report using LBS technology. The posing problem was that I could nt figure out how the real time traffic situation would be reported to the main central server. What I think could solve the problem is using GPS transeivers with GIS info. or getting the a service provider.

  14. namdar

    thats intresting idea
    if any body has a good study or powerpoint or doc. about traffic mobile(if we use this solution we take a relax or save same GAS,TIME,…

    namdar007@yahoo.com
    WBR

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