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Getting ready for ICT’s potential to make transport safer and more efficient

Julie Babinard's picture

How relevant is ICT for transport? The emergence of low-cost open-source mapping tools; widespread cellular network coverage in developing countries; declining costs of mobile phone hardware; and increasing Internet use by public agencies have resulted in unprecedented opportunities to support transport planning and management in developing countries. As reported in the new World Bank publication Information and Communications for Development 2012: Maximizing Mobile, around three-quarters of the world’s inhabitants now have access to a mobile phone. The number grew from fewer than 1 billion in 2000 to over 6 billion now, nearly 5 billion of which in developing countries. In 2011 alone, more than 30 billion mobile applications, or “apps” (the software that extends the capabilities of phones, for instance to become mobile wallets, navigational aids or price comparison tools) were downloaded.

Advances in technology can now make it possible to respond to specific needs, and for transport users - particularly vulnerable groups such as women, people with limited mobility, and people with disabilities - this could mean benefiting from new opportunities through safer and easier transport access. During the 2011 Transport Forum, a very good event titled ‘Leveraging ICT to Support Transport Development’ had highlighted some examples where ICT can help the transport sector, transit agencies and market transactions. As the following three examples show, other use of ICT applications in transport can help enhance transport projects effectiveness, create a safer environment for women to engage in economic activities and improve the mobility and safety of transport users.

ICT can foster safer mobility. Using increasingly widespread and affordable ICT, transport users can now report cases of harassment and discrimination. In Egypt, a very innovative website ‘HarassMap’ was launched in December 2010 by founder Rebecca Chiao, a long-time Cairo-based human rights activist, and Engy Ghozlan, an Egyptian engaged in women’s rights, to help report and ‘map’ harassment notices. Thanks to a very adaptable technology, victims of harassment can report incidents by simply sending an SMS to HarassMap, a website through which victims and witnesses of sexual harassment can report where incidents occurred and what happened.

ICT can help the planning and accessibility of transport. Transport users can also better plan their trips. In England, the Access Advisr is a pilot web application that uses crowd-sourcing to identify local people’s needs in order to improve accessibility to the existing public transit network of the project city for disabled and older people. The innovative application helps identify problem areas for accessible transport; involving people in the process of transport planning by finding out and rating how accessible different places and transport networks are. It allows reviewing information about the physical infrastructure and to rate it through a live feedback community of users who can contribute their views, photos and videos based on their experiences. As explained on the website,  Access Advisr will be particularly helpful for people who experience mobility impairments that prevent them from getting around with ease (an estimated 10 million people in the UK). Likewise, for people who occasionally need a bit more information about transportation when planning or making a journey.

 

ICT can help disseminate information on market prices, transport and logistics costs to the most vulnerable, including women. Improvements in ICT technology have allowed women and men around the world to access markets in growing numbers by lowering information barriers and reducing the costs associated with market transactions. It is estimated (Gender Dimensions of Trade Facilitation and Logistics by Higgins) that 70% of informal cross-border trade in Southern Africa is by women and that women informal traders contribute 64% of value-added trade in Benin, 46% in Mali and 41% in Chad. However, volumes of informal cross-border trade, and the conditions these traders experience, is largely undocumented. What is known, however, is that time and constraints tend to be more severe for women than men, and women stand to benefit more from these developments. Likewise, along transport corridors, sexual harassment and bribes for cross-border traders, many of which are women, can limit the benefits that can be derived from regional trade integration and projects that seek to improve transport logistics. Using mobile telephones to get information from and engage with women traders, relying significantly on transport and logistics’ efficiency, can help understand the extent and impact of these women’s constraints and any sexual harassment at border trading posts.

A work in progress and challenges to overcome. ICT can enhance transport’s effectiveness, safety and accessibility, but as these examples show, it is not yet a silver bullet. For the transport sector, there are issues surrounding the impact of ICT’s implementation that still need to be solved. First, a challenge rests in the usability of data collected through ICT technologies.  For example, policy makers have to decide if collecting transport data through crowd sourcing is most helpful to be freely accessible on a web portal through a map or simply fed into an institution’s information system. Second, collecting data is always useful but if there is no enforcement mechanism or follow-up policy process based on the data that is being collected, individuals may lose incentives to report data or feel that the system is not helpful, making the process unsustainable. In the case of harassment, either social pressure from increased reporting can eventually deter harassers, or the government, transport drivers or the police can be trained or given the means to help reduce harassment and enforce measures against it.

Finally, for ICT benefits to be realized and to bring in improvements to transport systems, it will be necessary to raise awareness about existing initiatives. In this context, the World Bank is already planning a Transport Hackathon in Egypt for October 2012. The objective of the Transport Hackathon is to increase awareness of transport challenges facing Egypt amongst technical communities, the creation of a network of atypical partners - software developers and development specialists, Egyptian civil society, and relevant Egyptian government offices engaged in finding solutions to transport related challenges. The hackathon may lead to the development of new innovations or the customization of existing ones. Solutions may include for example applications built on open transit data that informs commuters in real time.

In preparation for this hackathon and to continue raising awareness about existing initiatives, please help us identify other ICT tools and the relevant initiatives underway– either by discussing tools that can provide further examples of technological advances for transport or by discussing examples similar to the ones described in this entry or the Transport Forum event. 

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