By Zak Stone
Transit apps like Google Maps let drivers know when the freeways are jammed with traffic. So shouldn't they also tell you when buses and trains are crowded?
That's the goal of Moovit, a new app by a team of Israeli developers that crowdsources data from riders to provide a more complete image of what a trip is like. "When the app recognizes that the [Moovit] user boarded a bus, it may open a pop-up to ask questions about the ride," explains Moovit CEO Nir Erez. For example, how crowded is the bus? Is it clean? Is there Wi-Fi? "It takes one click to provide the data. Over 90% of our users gladly cooperate."
Moovit automatically gathers more basic information from riders as well, like the location of their bus and its velocity, to help the app determine whether or not the bus is running on schedule. Moovit piles that crowdsourced data onto layers of information you'd expect any transit app to work with--train and bus schedules plus municipally provided real-time vehicle data (when available)--to come up with as accurate a representation of a given ride as they can muster.
Using that knowledge, Moovit can then make more nuanced trip plans, suggesting alternative routes that are perhaps less crowded or quicker.
Moovit launched internationally in November and now serves more than 400,000 users in seven countries and 20 major urban areas, including Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, Tel Aviv, and New York. Erez says they're on track to break 1 million users by the end of this year's first quarter. "We are now capable of launching multiple metro areas every week and we'll continue to do so based on our marketing plan," adds Erez.
Quickly building a large user base will be key to the app's success. Crowdsourcing data requires a crowd after all, and unless Moovit can recruit a minimum of 20,000 to 30,000 users-cum-data gatherers in most cities it serves, the app won't live up to its promise and could end up as just another icon cluttering your phone's home screen. Another problem is gathering data from users when they're in the cell phone dead zone of the subway. But according to Gigaom, Moovit has raised $3.6 million, so they'll have a lot of time and money to figure that out.
Copyright 2013 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.