Smarter Cities Challenge (Lagos): Our Final Recommendations

Our three and a half weeks in Lagos flew by  very quickly. We were busy working, understanding the local culture and challenges, meeting with many people, and experiencing the transportation systems on our own. The last few days were a furious sprint to get our presentation finalized and validated by key stakeholders. Ultimately, we felt good about the recommendations we made to the Lagos State government, and they were well received.

The final 24 hours were a true test of stamina, mental strength, important meetings, press briefings, a few ours of sleep, our final meals together, and finally, our long journey home. When it was all said and done, we felt that we uncovered some new ideas for the Lagos government to consider, with a clear path for how to get it done.  We had a wonderful opportunity to present our recommendations directly to Governor Fashola, a local hero and a man who is trying to improve life in Lagos.  Based on comments during and after our meeting, the Governor and his team were impressed with our recommendations and appreciative of our efforts. Here’s the press release announcing our project and recommendations:

There’s also been some press coverage, like this story:

Now for a very brief summary of our presentation. We started by highlighting the opportunity for the Lagos State government to address many of the challenges they’re currently facing by improving their transportation system. Having a more efficient and far-reaching transportation system can have a positive impact on the environment, the economy, and general quality of life.

We went through some of our findings through an online survey we conducted, interviewers with various types of commuters, existing research/studies, and from our own observations while using the various modes of transportation.

We then quickly moved into our set of recommendations, broken into three main categories:

1) Major new capacity improvements

2) Improving efficiency of existing capacity

3) Creation of an Intelligent Transportation System

For the first category, much of this work is underway already. Things like completing the new rail and bus lines, completing the new ferry system, and other initiatives underway to improve and expand capacity.

For the second category, we provided suggestions for how to make the current infrastructure more efficient. This includes things like synchronized traffic lights, improving law enforcement on the roads, and creating and enforcing car pool lanes.

But the majority of our focus is on the third category, creating an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS). While it’s a bit difficult to follow just by looking at this chart, here’s a visual depiction of what that system would look like:

lagos vision

The general idea is to (starting at the bottom) collect vast amounts of data from various sources (cell phones, cameras, social media, etc.) and analyze and use that data to help with planning, rerouting of traffic, providing commuters with real-time updates, and to create a system that is constantly being optimized based on current and future (predictive analysis) conditions.

At the heart of this ITS system would be a central command center where all of the government agencies (traffic management, police, fire, etc.) would be tapping into and sharing the same data. Today, their data is not centralized which makes for difficult planning.

As part of our final presentation, Rob Wilmot led a discussion on the key areas of the proposed ITS. We had already reviewed this with the key stakeholders, so they were familiar with it during the final presentation. The Governor and commissioners had some good questions during our final presentation, which led to a lively discussion on how to start implementing this type of long-term vision.

Our presentation concluded with a very detailed road map, showing where to start, and how each project feeds into the next. So they walked away with a plan that can be executed, step by step. One key recommendation for the city is to create a centralized organization, along the lines of New York’s MTA or Port Authority, to help with the planning, organization, project management and budget components.

As we concluded, our team had a few minutes to chat with Governor Fashola. He applauded our efforts but had a lot to say about the need for local skills in Nigeria to implement and maintain a system like this. He agrees that they need it, but it’s also something that requires a cultural shift when it comes to things like law enforcement on the roads. But when it comes to the skills needed for data analysis, and even planned and predictive maintenance, he feels strongly that these are skills that need to be developed. Maintenance of roads, overall infrastructure, and buses needs major improvements. That’s an area where the Governor would like to see major improvements. Here are photos of the team chatting with the Governor after the presentation:

team with governor team pose with governor

The end of our trip was a bit chaotic and bittersweet. We left the Governor’s house, where our meeting was held, went back to our hotel, packed up, and went to the airport. The scene at the Lagos airport on a Friday afternoon is even more hectic than usual. So we all scattered a bit and ran off to our flights. Four of us went to Atlanta, so we had a few minutes on Saturday morning for some brief goodbyes.

It’s an amazing experience. You meet four colleagues for the first time in Nigeria, work/eat/live together night and day for 3 weeks. Then it all comes to a sudden end, and we’re back with our families and heading back to our jobs. But I can personally say that this was another one of those life and career changing opportunities. We all have high hopes that the city of Lagos will follow our recommendations and build a smarter transportation system for the future.

Aside from the working relationships, we met some amazing people, some friends for life, I hope. I will look back on my time in Lagos with some fine memories, and I’m proud of the work we did to hopefully help create a better future for Lagos, and the people of Nigeria.

For a final post, I’m going to gather some of the thoughts (and photos) from the team after we’ve all had a chance to digest it for a few days. So much happened in three weeks, and we saw so many new things. It’s a bit overwhelming to now sit back and try to remember it all.


1 Comment

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One response to “Smarter Cities Challenge (Lagos): Our Final Recommendations

  1. What a fantastic journey and mission! And told so well! Thanks for sharing! These BIG, real-world problems seem so daunting, yet there is hope as long as people like you and your team have the drive to make a difference for as many people as possible in one life time. Kudos to IBM for having the commitment to put a program like this in place.