MetroNow mock tablet. Photo provided.
Catching a Metro bus in Greater Cincinnati is getting a whole lot easier, thanks to big data and a few smart Cincinnatians.
Just this month, the new smartphone app Bus Detective went live – allowing users to search bus routes closest to them and track exactly when their bus will arrive.
The same real-time bus tracking data is being used to create another app –MetroNow - that will be used for tablets and computer monitors to be displayed at restaurants, bars and retailers across town starting in August.
The apps, their creators say, help cut out the guesswork that for decades has deterred would-be bus riders (and even inspired a 1980s cult rock classic: Waiting for the Bus.)
“If we can help make public transit more convenient – well, that’s our goal,” said Chris Moore, CEO of Gaslight, a downtown-based developer which built the Bus Detective app.
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The same real-time bus tracking data is being used to create another app – MetroNow – that will be used on tablets and computer monitors to be displayed at restaurants, bars and retailers across town starting in August.
There’s an App For That
Just four months ago, Gaslight moved from Blue Ash to new offices downtown, prompting more employees to start taking the bus to get to work, said Kevin Rockwood, a developer with Gaslight.
“There was a lot of snow and bad weather, and we were all getting frustrated with delayed buses,” said Rockwood. “So we started thinking, What if we could find a way – build an app – that would tell us if our bus is going to be late?”
Similar apps have been around in other cities for several years, but in Cincinnati real-time bus arrival data had only been available on a handful of digital signs.
Then, earlier this year the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority made the data available for the MetroNow effort, which is being led by Daneil Schleith and Nate Wessel. The University of Cincinnati graduate students landed a $10,000 grant from Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation’s People’s Liberty program for their plans.
By August, the pair expect up to 20 computer tablets to be posted at retailers across the city hosting the MetroNow app. Each tablet will allow passersby to see the nearest bus location and the expected arrival time.
“We really wanted this to be something that could increase ridership, get more people talking about public transit and make more visible,” said Schleith.
The displays will cost as little as $250 each – far less than the $5,000 price tag for Metro’s digital displays.
“The whole idea is to put the displays in public and semi-public places that will get people thinking about public transit, and help them understand how, and when and where it happens,” said Wessel.
Two callings collaborate
After reading about MetroNow on Wessel’s blog (link), Rockwood said he teamed with the duo to complete the back-end coding needed to build both apps.
Initially, just Gaslight employees were using Bus Detective. In the last month, the team made it public.
“We have hundreds of new users each day, and people say they’re finding it super useful,” said Rockwood. “Once they’re up and running it’s just going to make our app better.”
Now, Gaslight is teaming with MetroNow to work through a combined branding for the apps and pour through ridership data to help pick which communities to target first for the tablets.
“The bus system in Cincinnati is not perfect, but it’s here and there are a lot of little things that can be done that will improve it – especially if the demand exists for it,” said Schleith.