Google is using Maps to try and bring order to one of Africa’s most chaotic cities

Lagos’ iconic yellow danfo buses.
Lagos’ iconic yellow danfo buses.
Image: Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye
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Moving around in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic nerve center and Africa’s largest mega-city, can be a pain regardless of the mode of transport as problems range from road congestion to poorly maintained road infrastructure and rowdy public transport.

But, at its third annual Google For Nigeria event (a flagship program for unveiling new products and upgrades which first started in 2017 with a visit from Google CEO Sundar Pichai), the global giant announced upgrades to its Map service in Nigeria aimed at easing navigation.

The service now has a new “informal directions” interface dedicated to traveling with public transport buses, known locally as danfo. As such, a resident heading from Ikeja, in mainland Lagos, to the major business district in Victoria Island through public transport will see directions for which danfos to board based on routes and bus stops to alight based on the specific destination and real-time traffic congestion data. The interface will also include danfo fare estimates and levels of busyness at local bus stops.

The service was borne out of a need to “rethink how directions and Maps work” rather than “re-use what works elsewhere” in Lagos given the high dependence on informal routes, directions and public transport, said Ramesh Nagarajan, Google Maps’ product management director. The service, a global first, will first be tested with Google’s local guides in Lagos and then fully rolled out to the public as Google aims to “support all the different ways through which people travel.”

In addition, after first launching in Kenya, Google is also adding a new navigation mode for motorcycles in Nigeria. The mode was developed by analyzing travel times of motorcycle riders combined with real-time data on traffic conditions and using machine learning to build models that reflect the speed at which motorcycles travel and provide accurate arrival times.

Commercial motorcycles, locally known as okadas, which help people move faster, meandering between cars locked in traffic jams, have become a key cog in Lagos’ transport infrastructure despite lingering misgivings by the Lagos state government.

The navigation mode is far more likely to be adopted by riders with motor-cycle hailing companies which have become mainstream in Lagos over the past year than the majority who are independent okada riders, especially as most of them are uneducated and far less tech-savvy. Its application also holds promise for motorcycle delivery riders and can potentially impact the last-mile logistics challenge for e-commerce businesses. Alongside Nigeria, the navigation mode is also set to be launched in Ghana, Rwanda, Benin, Togo and Uganda.

After first debuting in Lagos, Google will now also launch Street View, a tool that allows users see panoramic street imagery, in four additional Nigerian cities—Abuja, Benin, Enugu and Ibadan.

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