In many countries we face the problems of people staying in remote villages and having a very limited access to transportation like buses and trains.
Added to this is the irregularity in timings and people having to wait hours together braving the weather. In places like India and Indonesia people in remote places barely have a notion of a frequent bus/train service. This problem also persists in developed in and developing nations where we wonder when our next ride would come. Due to this sort of unreliable infrastructure people often take to their own modes of transportation adding to their carbon footprint.
Although one may think that a solution has been found to this problem where all one has to do is to fix a gps tracking device on the bus to be able to track it. But if you look around you'd notice even the developed cities in the world would not have gps attached to all buses/trains ( any transportation entity for that matter). One may attribute this to lack of active governance, poor infrastructure etc.
Our goal here is to use user feedback to be able to keep track of transport entities in a semi-real time way without having to depend on govt infrastructure support and implementation and reducing the cost factor tremendously as we would not have to install gps tracking devices on each of those entities which eventually would be the solution in some of the developed nations.
A good example would be a city like Atlanta which is one of the biggest cities in the US. does not have a really good way to track a bus and often people have faced situations where they had to wait for long hours.
Taking an example of a developing nation, say like India, where the bus services are plenty, but extremely irregular.
Finally if we consider of poor nations, transportation facilities could be scarce and irregular.
Our goal is to provide a solution that caters to these problems and across all types of transportation infrastructure establishment in all countries.
This would be extremely useful in countries like India, Srilanka, Pakistan etc where the frequency is never consistent and in villages where there are other forms of public transportation.
Major cities in these countries do not have a schedule for bus services where one can tell that a bus is going to come to a particular stop at a particular time. This causes long waiting time and even encouraging people not to depend on public transport and instead go for buying either a bike or a car.
With the global pollution levels rising every day what we'd need is a good stable, reliable public transportation system which would encourage users to use public transport. We believe engaging users in this process is a good step towards this goal.
Quoting a personal example, I come from india and I used to wait long hours waiting for my bus to go to school. I would wait for 2 hrs sometimes and then go to my dad and ask him to drop me to school, eventually ending up being late and missing classes and being punished. I finally got a basic cellphone which only let users send a text message or make a call. But this was really useful as I would often call up my friends who would wait for the same bus but at a different stop. Once they hop on they'd call me and let me know that the bus is on its way. This way I'd know that my ride is on the way and I'd also have an approximate notion of time for the bus to reach my stop.
Now imagine this same use case in a country where you have immense heat in summers, like Southern india and people having to wait in the sun, causing headache and all sorts of problems (vision being a primary one due to immense heat and sunlight affecting them).
There are two sides to this application from an end user perspective:
- Update information:
- I get onto the bus number/code X at stop A. I notify this service via my mobile phone using a simple sms form layout or a smartphone app to indicate that the bus has reached stop A and leaving now. The application would capture the timestamp and bus information and update the web services.
- I am waiting at stop B for bus X and its way behind schedule and I have no idea how much longer I may have to wait. I lookup for the bus in the webservice using either a QR code reader which we'd assum would be attached to bus stops (to improve usability) or a simple sms lookup for devices not enabled with interent capability. I would then receive the information regarding this bus service and the approximate time when the bus would arrive. Now if I see that the bus would take too long to come, then I can think of alternate routes. I would then do a lookup for all buses coming to this bus stop B which would help me plan my alternative route.
- The basic constraint lies in the usability. We would want to make this as simple as possible for the user to be able to provide feedback.
- Verification of updated information. We would need to verify the first point of contact i.e. the bus has left the depot etc. We would have to model our approach along the lines of how radio stations alert people on potential traffic jams in the city.
- We would rely on users having cell phones. Considering the use cases even if we get 1/3rd the number of updates compared to the number of people on board the bus at any instant, its good enough.
- Integrate radio channels to monitor traffic. This would be an important factor in building up the science behind being able to provide an approximate idea of the time it would take to reach stop X.
- Carbon footprint tracker : We would engage the users and provide them a quatitative idea of the amount of carbon footprint they managed to reduce by using the bus service as compared to the average user who relies on his own mode of transport.
- We would encourage people to compete with each other via integration with facebook. So we are engaging users across the same carbon footprint profile to compete with each other.
- Support for the disabled: For the blind we would include voice feature to do both the look up and update.
There are many resources and technologies that could be leveraged in achieving a solution to this problem.
- Cell phone/Smartphone usage : This is becoming almost a norm in most developing and developed nations. In poorer nations, a basic mobile phone is also a norm. We could leverage this heavily to achieve what we are trying to do.
- SMS capability: We would provide different types of feedback systems as a part of a cell phone application/smartphone app. One of them being the basic sms service. Our goal is similar to the use of sms in alerting radio stations of a potential traffic blockage in the interstates or any busy road so that they can broadcast that to alert others. This technology would cater to people who may not be able to afford smartphones or countries where having a phone is a big deal.
- Smartphone app: Users having a more advanced device can download our application which would provide a really simple way to provide the feedback like using QR codes to just scan say the sticker on the bus stop and it would give them the list of transport entities that is approaching the stop.
- GPS tracking of individuals: If the users carry internet enabled devices making a request to see what buses are coming, they need not be at a bus stop. We could locate them using their gps co-ordinates and provide them with options.
This is an idea based on real life experiences and there is no ongoing project. We wish to use the RHOK platform to provide us the boost for this idea.
As an initial deployment, we would provide a free download of the android app and the sms service with an integration to a backend web service which would take care of the processing.
The app would be very simple and intuitve.