The private cars with code-02 license plates were moving near National Stadium during the state of emergency following the government's directive.

A team of eight tech experts under the Technology & Innovation Institute have developed an online system to process special permits for private vehicles to be used daily during the state of emergency. The system is designed to eliminate the necessity of individuals travelling to the Federal Transport Authority offices.

The team started developing the online special pass permission system after the Ministry of Transport issued a directive that limits the use of private cars for five months. The directive followed the state of emergency decree that put many restrictions on public life to limit the spread of COVID-19. The authorities claim that the goal of the directive is to reduce the traffic on the roads and encourage people to stay at home.

Beginning April 18, the directive permits private vehicles to be used only every other day. Cars with an even digit at the end of their license plate may drive on one day, those with an odd digit at the end of their license plate may drive the next day.

But it gave an exception for media and health professionals, religious leaders and people with disabilities as well as those involved in government-sponsored projects to prevent the pandemic to drive their cars after obtaining a special pass from the Authority.

The system, which is monitored and regulated by the Federal Transport Authority, became operational on May 8, 2020. Eligible applicants can put the vehicle title certificate book, organisation ID, and a support letter from where they work on the system. The Authority claims it takes a day to file and approve their applications. Using their user name and password, applicants can follow the status of their application.

The platform aims to reduce social gatherings, control illegality, and to be transparent during the application process, according to Selman Mohammed, director for the information systems & infrastructure division at the Institute.

Out of the total registered 613,638 vehicles in the capital, a third of them, or 218,028, have a code 02 private license plate.

The Authority is currently transferring the manually filed applications into the new online system, according to Abdulber Shemsu, deputy director at the Authority in charge of the transport sector.

Before taking the application process online, the Authority was providing temporary permits that worked for nine days. Now, those who wish to extend those permits have to apply for a replacement online. Even though the Authority says that it only takes a day to process the license, the system has not been responding for over a week.

"It takes more than a day when there are backlogged files under review," said Abdulber.

However, workers at the Authority were given a direction to prioritise health professionals and then religious leaders and people with disabilities. Media professionals and non-governmental organisation workers will be served next.

The workflow of the system passes through a data encoder, a verifier and an approver, according to Selman.

"Once approved, the special pass can be printed out from the system," he said. "However, for now, the passes are given after the applicants present themselves physically."

As of May 14, 2020, the Authority has issued 960 special permits through the online application system, according to Abdulber.

The team at the Institute has also developed a mobile application for traffic police to control the legality of the special pass. The officer logs into the app and scans the permission pass number and bar code to check if it is legitimate.

“It is a web-based system that is modular and dynamic,” said Selman.

Switching from manual service to the automatic system reduces the need for social gathering. It makes a considerable contribution to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Bekalu Tadele, a lecturer at Haramaya University, who has some doubts on the privacy of the system. He cautions the developers to consider the security of the system.

“They should think about how to guarantee that the system will not be illegally accessed or hacked,” said Bekalu.

Bekalu also adds that the systems that are developed or customised over short periods of time might have limitations, since the developers might not have enough time to collect feedback from users and make improvements.

PUBLISHED ON May 16,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1046]

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