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Reimagining the Commute3 min read

Shrinking the speed at which you move through a city a key to economic empowerment and increasing productivity in a city. In some cities a commute is more integral to your day than time with your family. It is a game of cat and mouse trying to beat the commute where it can be 30 minutes at off peak times and 2 , mostly idle, hours at peak times.

My friends who live in Nairobi have to wake up at 4am to get to work on time, their commute has become the center of how they plan their day. Travel times not only decrease your economic productivity but also dictates where and how you live your life.

In places like Kinshasa, it is even worse. With no functioning public transportation network you have to be wealthy enough to afford your own vehicle or you’re limited to your own two feet.

I have had the opportunity to travel and live in first world cities and see how good transportation can shrink the commute that would take 2 hours in a city like Lagos to 10 minutes in a city like London. With these times you bring the entire city to your doorstep.

The model of hyper expensive subways are unrealistic in the African context. Cities are exploding and this negates the improvements. There needs to be a re-imagination of the commute that does not put us in increasing debt and takes 10 years to make incremental progress.

I am a technologist and I feel like the solution once we find, will be simple in retrospect. With both time and economic barriers to the status quo, we need to question every assumption along the way, break away from the crisis of inspiration, the future of commute in African cities will look less and less like New York.

At SafeMotos we generate a lot of data that we start to see interesting patterns, patterns that evolve with the city. In Kinshasa robots direct traffic, nevertheless, android smartphones cost less than a bottle of wine at a restaurant and data is increasingly cheaper. We  are the custodians of data and would like to work with strategic thinkers who can take these insights to the decision making rooms for urban planning, and join the private sector in transforming the commute in our cities.

I am excited to be part of a group of people reimagining the commute in African cities! Share with me your ideas on how to improve commute in African cities in the comments.


  1. 1. Who feeds the Kinshasa robot data?
    2. Who’s offering android phone + data + vino packages?

    • kariscomp kariscomp

      Thanks Margaret, I can imagine what a treasure the robot data would be to modeling traffic patterns. I am reaching out to the lady who launched them to understand what kind of data they have. On smartphones, all the major telecoms are offering an option, data is still prohibiting for most but AfriCell is trying to change that! I am looking forward to working with them!

  2. Thomas Bergman Thomas Bergman

    I think I’ve been able to learn a lot about this from Berlin, a city with a great (but by no means perfect) commute.

    1) Decentralization.
    Berlin has no single business, economic, or residential district. Instead it is composed of a series of self-contained neighborhoods.
    In practice most people live, shop and work in their own neighborhood and rarely need to leave.
    This means shorter and more diverse commutes and less pressure on main arteries.

    2) Multi-Channel.
    Subway, Tram, above ground train, bus, ride-share, taxi, car, on-demand scooter, on-demand bicycle, foot – many of which occupying their own specific lanes, transit-vectors prevents over-crowding and evenly distributes demand.

    3) Telecommute and Flexible hours
    When possible commute can be reduced by encouraging employees to work from home and do vary working hours. Berlin incentivizes this with extremely flexible hours. Restaurants, Bars, etc can be open (legally) as late as they want and public transit runs all night. This reduces crush times as people start and end their day, their shopping, and their leisure at different times.

    4) Redundancy
    Multiple airports, multiples zoos, malls, multiple government offices, big companies even have offices in multiple neighborhoods where employees can choose to work. This aids decentralization and helps distribute load further.

    5) Reduce cost to move housing.
    This is something Berlin does better than some but worse than others. If people can change housing cheaply, easily, with minimal bureaucracy and minimum sacrifice, then they can more easily select housing near work that can allow for shorter recruiters and more free time.

    Ultimately the best commute is no commute and the extent to which cities can make that a reality, the better commute can be.

    Curious to see what solutions you will develop!

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