This past December, Trillium was given the opportunity to travel to Farroupilha, a city in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, to participate in the ByBus Project. Our goal: map the city’s entire bus system with the help of local volunteers. That may sound ambitious, but the community had been supporting this venture long before we set foot in Brazil. The effort began when the NGO Caravan Studios, a division of TechSoup, created the “Made at the Library” program with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Designed to develop mobile apps using open data, the program brings together library staff and library users to spark creativity and discover solutions to local problems. The community voted on several potential initiatives, and the ByBus Project was one of three winners. Although Farroupilha has a robust transit network, materials available to riders are limited. Users of the system typically found the best routes to destinations through a combination of trial and error and asking bus drivers. The ByBus Project brought together Caravan Studios and Trillium to coordinate volunteer workshops, collect transit data, and produce GTFS data to be made available in the Transit app.
On our first day in Farroupilha, priority number one was, of course, to get on the bus. The Bento Transportes buses were modern, comfortable, punctual, and well utilized; The transit mall at the Praça was bustling with activity.
The magnitude of the project quickly became obvious. Our work would touch the lives of everyone in the city. While this is inherent in what we do every day at Trillium, it’s different to experience that feeling in real time, in person, and not from hundreds or thousands of miles away. I was also reminded of how fun it is to explore abroad by bus. Traveling along the common thoroughfares and observing the other riders, one gets a glimpse into the vibe of a city, of the style and character of its people. With a population of around 71,000, Farroupilha is near the size of Camden, New Jersey and Gary, Indiana. It was not uncommon for riders to run into friends while on their daily commute. And it was not too long until I felt like a local myself, albeit one with a terrible understanding of the common tongue.
The next two weeks were a flurry of activity: acclimating to the time zone, meeting our team, finalizing strategy, and truly getting our heads wrapped around the ins and outs of transit in Farroupilha.
I wasn’t nervous until the first morning of data collection. We were taking one final lap around the library, testing GPS units before the volunteers got on buses. We only had few days for our student volunteers to collect as much data as possible. We did not have much leeway for mistakes. I need not have worried, however. We were soon cruising, like a Bento bus down Farroupilha’s many hills. As the data poured in, I had no more time to be nervous. Our team of volunteers went from reticent to confident, confident to excited. Working with neighbors and friends towards a common goal, especially as a volunteer, evokes an indescribable feeling of togetherness and hope. You’re bringing forth a shared future that is better than it would be without your efforts. The Made in Library initiative fosters that community camaraderie by making projects like ByBus possible.
The ByBus Project was built by and for the community. In becoming a collaborator, I found myself surrounded by wonderful, truly talented people. Richard Abisla, our project leader, is as talented, genuine, and thoughtful as one could hope for in a manager. Angela Maria Silveira, our professional translator, amazed me each day. I am humbled by her skill and hope that I’m fortunate enough to work with her in the future. Cristina Possa Arruda and the librarians at the Biblioteca Pública Olavo Bilac supplied providence and drive, without which this project would not exist. Felipe Martin Sampaio, a professor at the Instituto Federal Farroupilha, not only organized volunteer outreach and organization, but has also been an instrumental communicator amongst all stakeholders. Maiane dos Santos and Gilmar Brollo from Bento Transportes made themselves available at every turn to answer our numerous and sometimes stupid questions. Last but not least, I can’t put into words how fortunate we have been to work alongside our student volunteers. Intelligent, savvy, and caring individuals all. They are the reason the ByBus Project has succeeded and will surely spread to other communities.
Farroupilha went live in Transit this March with a partial dataset. Work continues as more data workshops are scheduled to gather the remaining data. If you’d like more information please contact Ricky Abisla, Portfolio Manager of the Americas, at [email protected].