Can smartphones make our cities better? Earlier this month, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) launched an Android app developed indigenously to track potholes and show real-time progress on fixing them. The app is currently available only for Android phones with GPRS connections, so it’s limited in reach.
BMC additional municipal commissioner Aseem Gupta says: “This will make it easy to lodge complaints. It is narrow right now, but we have just begun; in time we will bring all kinds of issues and devices into the system to make it truly for the people.”
Once you download the app, you take a picture of a pothole, and location data from the phone sends a map location along with the photo to BMC officials, so they know how severe the problem is.
This also updates the Voiceofcitizen.com website, where users can track progress on potholes being fixed. You have to download the app from the website, since it isn’t on the Android Market yet.
Mapped: A pothole marked by a user with the BMC’s Android app.
Whether someone will make the effort to take a photo is a separate issue, but this isn’t the first time a civic body has gone digital. In May 2010, the Delhi Police opened a Facebook account to help improve communication with residents of the Capital, and sought suggestions on traffic management. The page has 87,932 followers, and many people use it to post pictures of traffic violations.
Satyendra Garg, joint commissioner of police (traffic), says: “The Facebook page has been a very useful tool to communicate directly with the public. The force is not just the 5,000 officers, but every citizen on Facebook. People have been reporting a huge number of violations and everyone, even VIPs or policemen, have been reported by the public, and action has been taken quickly, efficiently and with transparency.”
There are also several apps available now that weren’t created by the government but are of great use for people living in or visiting the cities they cover.
Cheater Meter on iOS or Android (www.cheatermeter.in) is an app that converts meter readings into fares, for both rickshaws and taxis, and also tracks night charges. The app even spells out the rate phonetically in Hindi, so even if you don’t know the language, you can give the correct figure to the driver. Meter Down, Mumbai Taxi and Rickshaw Card are apps that offer similar functions with different interfaces.
The Bestbus Route Finder app uses location information from your handset to help you use the Mumbai bus service. It tracks your movement, alerts you to your stop and gives you the bus number you need to take.
For the local train, there is m-Indicator in Mumbai, and Delhi Metro Navigator in the Capital. They offer timings and routes, and use location data to find the nearest stops. All these apps are free to download and use.
In Chennai, volunteers can sign up on www.transparentchennai.com to download an app that tracks location data using phone GPS systems, to report civic issues.
Project director Nithya V. Raman says: “Our goal is to create data so that the elected representatives can be held accountable in a concrete fashion. This is a first step in that direction.”
Transparent Chennai will present this data to ward representatives and discuss feedback with the people there.
The group plans to distribute kits online to make the public part of the civic process.