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The Emergence of Volunteer Bus-Route Mapping Projects

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Whether you’re an infrequent bus-user or happen to live in an area with no fixed route stops, you’ve probably wished that there was such a thing as bus maps. You’re definitely not alone. According to Wired, 60 percent of the world’s urban places lack public transportation maps.

A group of students at the American University of Beirut is doing their part to help eradicate this problem in their city. Learn more about their map-making project, as well as other volunteer mapping groups that are emerging around the world. 

Beirut’s bus map

The Beirut mapping project started back in 2017, when AUB students wanted to encourage more students to use the city’s bus system. They originally had the idea of an app that would send users real-time bus schedules. However, they soon ditched this idea, realizing that there wasn’t even a bus-route map to base the app off of. 

So, the team went to work. It forged a startup called Yalla Bus and obtained grants and sponsorships to fund the mapping project. Students talked to drivers about their routes and took notes during their own bus-riding sessions. Next, they engaged with the bus fleet owners in Beirut, convincing them to let the students mount GPS trackers to the buses. 

This April, after two years of diligent work, Yalla Bus released its bus map online. It also leveraged local university’s printing supplies to print and distribute approximately 3,000 hard copies of the map.  

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Beyond Beirut

Other cities are starting to follow in Beirut’s wake with volunteer- and community-based mapping projects. Lebanon’s is one example of this. Transparent Chennai in India is yet another. 

Cities in the U.S. are also following suit. For instance, the Better Bus Project is an offshoot of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. According to the group’s website, the team meets regularly with local bus-users in the community to hear and compile their concerns about gaps in bus service. They also provide quarterly bus-schedule updates to promote bus use.  

These projects help highlight the existing order inherent in bus routes and communicate this order to riders so they have a more streamlined experience when using the system. As Sarah Williams, MIT professor of technology and urban planning, put it, “The maps show that there is an order. […] The system could be used to help plan new transportation initiatives.”

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News Sources: WiredMassachusetts Bay Transportation Authority,