A group of alert citizens in Mumbai has developed an app to help people report potholes on the roads. They are now trying to work with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) so that the authorities can find and fill these potholes.
“Ouch!” You hear your bones rattle when your car crosses a pothole, complain about it, pull an angry face, and move on. Sounds like a common enough scenario in any Indian city, doesn’t it? But what if instead of cursing the pothole and the apathy of the authorities, you could actually take a step to help them find and fix this dangerous menace on the roads?
The ‘Fill in the Potholes Project’, started by a citizen group in Mumbai, has developed a mobile application named Spothole that enables people to report potholes to the municipal authorities from anywhere in the city.
All you have to do is click a picture of the crater and hit the ‘report’ button on the app. Spothole automatically geotags the pothole based on the GPS location of the smartphone. This information is then saved on the app’s server. Other viewers can view this information too and use it, if they want, to avoid the routes on which there are too many potholes.
The group, with four core members and several volunteers, has now started an online petition requesting BMC authorities to collaborate with them and use the app to track and fill potholes.
“There is an admin panel in the dashboard of our backend. We want to give it to BMC so that authorities can log in, see the areas where the pothole reports have come from, and try to get work done there. Once a pothole is filled, they can tag the entry as resolved and the person who reported it will get a notification about the same,” says Rupesh Mandal, one of the members of the project.
Rupesh is an independent creative director. According to him, the app idea initially started as an art project. In 2014, he says, when he was riding in an auto-rickshaw that hit a pothole, the creative side of his brain sprang into action. “I started thinking of potholes as nothing but blank spaces. And like we used to ‘fill in the blanks’ at school, we just had to fill in the potholes now. Being in the business of storytelling, I decided to ‘fill these potholes’ with the help of stories. So my friends and I started taking pictures of potholes with toys next to them. There would be a Lego figure fishing in a pothole, minions falling into another, Batman’s bat-mobile stuck in a pothole, etc.,” he says.
The pictures were posted on www.fillthepotholes.com.
However, the group soon realised they were “doing nothing but cribbing about the problem in a creative way.” With a desire to do something more constructive, they started a crowdfunding campaign, raised a sum of Rs. 1.22 lakh and developed the app.
Today, it has over 500 downloads and people are reporting potholes from different areas.
“The idea behind this project is not to resort to a blame game. We are not against the government or the system. We have to be in the system to work and solve civic problems. We are just proposing this collaboration to the BMC, saying that we have come up with this solution, so let’s use it together. We want to work with the government in a collaborative manner,” says Rupesh.
Recently, the group also started working with Dadarao Bilhore, a Mumbai-resident who has been filling potholes ever since he lost his 16-year-old son in a road accident. Dadarao’s son Prakash met with an accident in July 2015 when his bike hit an uncovered pothole on the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road. And since then, every time Dadarao sees a pothole, he fills it as a tribute to his son. “I shared our project details with Mr. Dadarao, heard his story, and we decided to join hands. With his help, we are showing the BMC authorities that they can use the app just as Dadarao is using it,” says Rupesh.
They have given him a smartphone with the app. It is now easy for him to find the potholes, get directions to their location, and fill them up.
This group believes this technology can empower and enable citizens. They can report a pothole location and the entire data can be sent to BMC on the same day for the latter to take action. “Most of the problems happen because of lack of communication. We wanted to use technology as a tool to bridge this gap. Let’s say you reported a pothole on the app about two months ago and BMC fixed it after three days. You again notice the same pothole after two months. Now, because of digital records that are available on the app, you can track the frequency with which people have been reporting problems on one particular road, who the contractor who received the tender is, etc. And for this, we are willing to work with the government,” says Rupesh.
The group is also planning to work on an appreciation model in which the person who has reported the maximum number of potholes is given the ‘citizen of the month’ title.
“We have been doing our bit. Now it is your turn. Let’s come together to try and solve this problem,” Rupesh concludes with this message for BMC as well as other Mumbaikars.