It’s incredibly frustrating when you arrive at your bus or train station just to find out the service is unavailable for the day. The next best option is to trek to the nearest available stop, or to hail an expensive taxi. And the problem is exacerbated when you realize hundreds of other commuters will try the same tactic, resulting in scarce taxis or unruly, crowded public transport.
Of course, in some cities there are localized services that provide information on train and bus schedules, but they’re not always updated in real time around the clock. In such cases, crowdsourced information can be a powerful tool to instantly relay information – commuters who notice delays or closures can transmit data, potentially preventing frustration for thousands.
And that’s what Moovit is trying to achieve. The Israeli startup uses a combination of official data – readily available in cities such as London, New York, and San Francisco, as well as feedback from users to give real-time updates on all transportation services. These include buses, trains, and subway networks. It has 28 million users spread across 700 cities and 58 countries.
Better than Google Maps
Moovit’s user experience is far more engaging and friendly than Google Maps. After launching the app, all you have to do is input your destination.
The app will track your current location and suggest a number of available public transport options. After choosing the one you prefer, Moovit will outline step-by-step directions to get to your required destination. If the journey necessitates a change of bus or train, then there’s also real-time information on estimated wait times. While you travel, Moovit will keep you updated on nearby attractions and notify you when you’re close to the destination.
"One of our key differentiators is how we deal with data," says Alex Torres, vice president of marketing at Moovit. "Transportation is unreliable and there’s no way to predict whether a bus or train is delayed. We’re gathering feedback, data, and reports coming from our users with the official data we have."
Alex points to the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) – a way for public transit agencies to publish their data
and allow developers to code applications utilizing the data – as the major problem. Almost all transportation companies use this format but it’s not updated very frequently. Even Google Maps is dependent on GTFS files. As a result, most map services can’t be relied upon for accurate transportation schedules.
Crowdsourcing is key
But while the startup does factor in official information, Alex makes it clear that it’s not dependent on this source. Moovit has been able to launch in cities such as Buenos Aires, which lack credible data, as it utilizes "internal tools" and "different layers of data." It has a core community of approximately 20,000 users, who help launch the app in different cities.
He explains: "Let’s say you’re a Moovit user and you go to Delhi or Tokyo. When
you open the app, you get a notification saying the service is not supported, would you like to help us launch in this city? That’s the first point of contact. Those who are interested get in touch with us, we give them training with our mechanisms and tools and that’s how we engage users."
The app can also use GPS information to transmit data anonymously, helping crowdsource information faster.
As for monetization, Alex says they’re testing several models right now. One is taxi integration, which has gone live in Brazil, Colombia, and Chile. There’s also a plan to introduce mobile ticketing. So far, Moovit has raised combined funding of US$81.5 million spread across three rounds. BMW, Nokia, and Sequioa Capital are the main investors.
Moovit is gearing up to expand into other cities and help solve transportation issues. India is an important market the startup wants to cover – it’s already present in Bangalore but there are plans to go to Delhi and Mumbai. Indonesia and Singapore are also part of Moovit’s existing network. "We’re heavily invested in Asia in terms of time and resources," says Alex.
What’s your preferred method of navigating to a destination? Let us know in the comments!
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