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Techie takes on Cambodia’s traffic headaches with app

Va Kora in his home office with his team
Va Kora in his home office with his team. Bennett Murray

Techie takes on Cambodia’s traffic headaches with app

With fast economic growth in the capital comes the increasingly large burden of traffic congestion. But one local programmer is using app technology to ease the pain of Cambodian commuters.

“Traffic jams are not just a problem of traffic – it is a kind of social problem,” said Va Kora, founder of Chaktomuk Traffic, a recently released crowd-sourced app that allows users to report traffic conditions live.

“When you are stuck in traffic, you lose your time and you feel stressed, so it’s not good for your health. And we can say it is an economic loss, when you cannot spend your time doing economic activities.”

Kora is no stranger to either information technology or commuter chaos. After receiving a master’s degree from the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo, he spent two years working for Rakuten, Japan’s largest e-commerce website, where he developed a hotel booking system.

But he decided to quit his high-paying job in corporate Japan to start his own business back home.

Kora said: “I had a very good job in Japan, and I worked for a very good company. But I think that it was not enough for me. I wanted to do something by myself.”

He returned to Phnom Penh last year with hopes of developing a Cambodian e-commerce website, but he instead decided to first focus on the Kingdom’s traffic problems, which had increased exponentially while he was in Japan. Commuter apps in Tokyo, said Kora, inspired his own creation.

“When I was in Japan, every time I wanted to go out somewhere, we had to check for the train schedule and routes: how can we go to our destinations with less time and money?”

But for a city with no functional rails and limited bus services, Kora decided to create a crowd-sourced traffic app where users create live updates on the city’s streets. After a six-month development period, his five-person team launched the free app earlier this month for iOS and Android.

The interface is simple, with users reporting a particular stretch of road as under normal, severe or standstill conditions. To bolster enthusiasm and encourage others to participate, Kora and his team currently keep the app alive by regularly reporting the traffic themselves.

But Kora said that user participation has started to catch on, with 3,000 downloads in the first three weeks and new updates already in the works.

“For the near future, we want to allow users to upload images to our system. And we want it so if you register your favourite route from your home to your office, and if a traffic jam happens on that route, we will alert you,” he said.

Once it gains popularity, said Kora, he will consider incorporating ads into the app. One idea is to allow businesses to target app users in their immediate vicinities with special offers.

However, Kora said he has not lost sight of his plan to create Cambodia’s first e-commerce website. The current options, he said, only include online marketplace listing services that lack essential features such as payment or delivery methods.

But money is not Kora’s primary motivation, he said, adding that many wannabe app developers in the Kingdom unrealistically see programming as an easy ticket to wealth and fame.

“They have a dream to be one of the Silicon Valley guys or something,” said Kora.

“But for myself, I want to do something very useful for the people.”

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