In Bangalore, we see epic traffic jams on a daily basis. According the estimate in Revised Master Plan – 2031, Bengaluru’s economy suffered a loss of Rs 3700 crore in 2016 due to traffic jams alone!
The traffic jams can be reduced drastically if Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) can attract people to ride buses, instead of using private vehicles.
So how can BMTC make the bus services irresistible to the public?
A passenger would gladly take the BMTC bus for his daily commute, if it meets the following conditions:
- It must cover the entire trip, door-to-door, with minimal walking
- It must be reliable and on time.
- It should be easy to find the latest and correct status of buses, on displays or mobiles.
- If one has to change buses, one doesn’t have to wait midway.
- One doesn’t have to stand in the bus. There must be assured seat, especially for journeys >10 minutes.
- The bus must directly head for the destination (no circular routes!)
- The trip must not be costly compared to private vehicles.
- It should be safe to ride at night (especially for women and children).
- The ride must be comfortable, with protection from heat and rain.
Well, if the BMTC smartphone app is well-designed, it can actually fulfill many of these needs, by making use of data from BMTC’s Intelligent Transport System.
However, the app suffers from multiple issues, and thus fails to attract new people to BMTC buses. These problems and their proposed solutions are listed below.
Problem-1: too many choices for commuter
The app offers a huge choice of stops and asks the user to choose a combination of stop and route. Then the app checks whether the stop-and-route combination is valid. If not, the user has to re-try.
This is an utter waste of time, for four main reasons:
- Most users do not know all stops by their name, and all routes by their codes, and which stop serves which routes. For example, most of the junctions like Marathahalli Bridge and Trinity circle have multiple stops, along all branching roads. Each stop serves a different set of routes. No user can be expected to remember all that information.
- Sometimes users may need to go to an unfamiliar area, where they may not know the bus stops and routes.
- The app shows the bus stops as a verbose list. Sometimes most of the names are similar to each other. Therefore it is very difficult to visualize which stop we are talking about.
- BMTC uses a large number of route variants (same route number, but different suffix letters). Most of these variants have only a small difference in their path. For example, all routes having “335” ply on the common path from Kundalahalli to KBS. If a user wants to travel within this common path, there is no point in showing buses of only one route variant at a time.
- For the start point, the app should use the GPS, and show him all nearby stops on a map.
- For the destination area, show all possible stops, on a map.
Problem-2: importance on route numbers doesn’t help
- Most users are not particular about the bus stop or route number. Let the app find any bus going to the desired destination. Let the app choose the start and end bus stops; and also the route number. The only exception is circular routes, which are not preferred by users.
- Aged/invalid users may prefer to use only the nearest stop, as they cannot walk to stops faraway.
- If a user is in a rush, she may want to find the bus stop from where many more buses are available. Because, then the possibility of finding a convenient bus is more. Even if such a bus stop is farther away, he won’t mind the extra walking!
- On the outskirts, the user may want to find any stop where the next bus will appear in shortest possible time. Because in such areas, the overall bus frequency is very low. If one misses one bus; the next bus may arrive an hour later. Worse, if it is the last bus of the day, one could be stranded! So this feature gives one a better chance of catching a bus.
- Long-distance commuters want to find which of the incoming buses has free seats. For long journeys, traveling as standee is tiring. It is better to skip the next two buses if the third bus has free seats!
- The app must find an indirect combination route if there is no direct route. The passenger has to reach his destination, even by changing buses. She cannot give up where there is no direct bus. Therefore the app must cater to this need. just like Google Map).
- Flag the last bus for the chosen start and end bus stops; counting all routes. The passenger must get on board this bus at any cost, to avoid being stranded.
(a) calculating the bus frequency counting all routes between two stops,
(b) flagging the last bus, etc.
Problem-3: no option to save a particular search
Often a daily commuter wants to check the bus status on his fixed route (home ↔workplace). Currently this can’t be saved in the ITS app.
Let users save their queries, favourite them and make it easy for them to search for it next time. The result can also be shown immediately in a separate pane.
Problem-5: time-consuming procedure
The app relies on verbose questions. This is confusing, and time-consuming.
Just show a map, with markers and route lines. Let the user select.
The app cannot work on Wi-Fi connection. This makes it very costly to run. Many users would check up the bus from their office/home, where the Wi-Fi data is mostly free (or at least, much cheaper compared to mobile data).
The app should prefer WiFi data connection (if available).
Problem-7: unnecessary downloads
This gives rise to two problems:
1. The start up time becomes too long
2. The data consumption is too high.
Problem-8: lack of realtime road usability data
The app does not display any roadblocks along the routes (compare with Waze app).
I have often faced this issue: Often some major road work blocks a road, and the buses are diverted for a few days. As a result, some stops are not served for a few days. But this information is not reflected in the app.
With these improvements, I think the BMTC ITS app would be much more useful than it is now, for a lot more people, and will help improve the footfalls in the buses.