Crowdsourcing Apps to Report Bay Area Public Transportation Delays

Carolyn Said in the San Francisco Chronicle: “It’s the daily lament of the public transit rider: When will the bus show up?

The NextBus system is supposed to answer that for Muni riders. It displays anticipated arrival times through electronic signs in bus shelters, with a phone service for people who call 511, on a website and on a smartphone app, harvesting information from GPS devices in Muni’s fleet. Now a study by a San Francisco startup says it’s accurate about 70 percent of the time, with the worst performance during commute hours.

The researchers have their own plan to improve accuracy: They created a crowdsourced iOS app called Swyft. Some 40,000 Bay Area residents, about three-quarters of them in San Francisco, now use the app to report when their Muni bus, BART train or AC Transit bus is delayed, overcrowded or otherwise experiencing problems. That lets the app deliver real-time information to its users in conjunction with the NextBus predictions.

“The union of those two provides better context for riders” to figure out when their bus really will arrive, said Jonathan Simkin, co-founder and CEO of Swyft, which has raised a little over $500,000. “We built Swyft to optimize how you get around town.” Swyft has been tested since January in the Bay Area. An Android version is coming soon.

An app for iOS and Android called Moovit also uses crowdsourcing combined with transit information to predict bus or train arrivals. Moovit, released in 2012, now has 35 million users in more than 800 cities in 60 countries, giving it a bigger user base than Google Maps, it said. The company couldn’t say how many users it has in San Francisco. The Israeli company has more than $81 million in venture backing.
When users ride public transit with the Moovit app open, it anonymously tracks their speed and location, and integrates that with schedules to predict when a bus will arrive. It also lets users report problems such as how crowded or clean a vehicle is, for instance….(More)”