How much time have you spent waiting for a bus in NYC? Or trying to figure out which bus will take you where you need to get to? The subway system is not only mapped out but also pretty much wired to let you know when the next train will arrive at the station, but as for the buses – fuggedaboutit.
Well, that’s changing. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and AT&T recently announced the winners of the 2013 App Quest challenge, a global competition to develop new mobile tools that use real time MTA data to improve commutes for millions of subway, bus and rail riders. Taking one of the prizes was Bus NYC, the most comprehensive bus app in New York City, providing users with live departure and arrival times, full timetables for selected routes, service advisories, bus route maps and trip planners, among others features Many of Bus NYC’s features also function without Wi-Fi, allowing users to plan while they are underground. Today, we chat with Will Ryan of Electric Labs, the developers of the Bus NYC app.
Tell us about the app.
Bus New York City was conceived in December of 2010 while I was staying with a friend in Manhattan who didn’t happen to live particularly close to the subway. I found the experience of using the bus network incredibly difficult, with little information about the location of the stops, or the routes that the buses took. I looked online and was lucky to find out that the MTA had opened their data to the developer community just a month or two earlier. Having worked on the real-time bus system in London and with our many years of mobile experience, we saw an excellent opportunity to create an iPhone app to help New Yorkers get the most out of the bus system.
Since its launch, Bus NYC has evolved, as real-time information has become available to give both offline schedule data, and real-time bus positions and predictions where available. No more waiting around at bus stops! It also gives live network status, route maps, journey planning and other bits and pieces that might encourage people to use the bus system more frequently and efficiently.
What market are you attacking and how big is it?
Bus NYC should be useful to every New Yorker. I think there is a heavy reliance on the taxis in New York, and sometimes people frown when asked about their use of the buses. In other cities, the buses are used by the vast majority of people, but I don’t feel that this is true in New York. With an app like Bus NYC, we take the guesswork out of using the system, and it is an app that we see our users opening up multiple times per week. To put this all in context, the MTA say that there are 8.5 million commuters that the app could potentially reach.
What is the business model?
The app is for sale through the app store for $2.99 – about the price of a cup of coffee. We take 70% of sales as per the Apple’s developer program. There is an opportunity for a free banner-ad version, which we have not yet explored after failing to see positive results from this approach from all but the most popular of apps that we have worked on (and even then, it has never seen the most impressive of returns). Users could have the option to pay to remove the advertising, which can often prove an attractive option for apps that consumers use frequently.
There is an opportunity to partner with other organizations, such as New York taxi firms, who might benefit from having their sponsored number for when people miss their (last?) bus. The app could also be made free if it were to partner with an organization who would be willing to pay an ongoing maintenance fee e.g. Bus New York City, in association with [[Insert Company Name Here]]. As of yet, we have not explored these options.
If you could meet with one investor in the New York community, who would you choose and why?
This is a tricky question for us. We are a London-based company with various interests here in America and visit the city numerous times every year. We have good ties with investors in the UK, but are not so familiar with the status quo here in New York. The app could benefit from further development, so some additional funding could certainly come in useful to improve the experience and potential virality of the app. The entire city’s bus network will be real-time enabled by the second quarter of 2014, so it would be great to really give the app a push before then.
Otherwise, the main quality of an investor would be the contacts they might have which can make the app become truly mainstream i.e. an app that a huge proportion of both New Yorkers and tourists would have on their iPhone home screens. Further investment could also allow for us to tackle other platforms, such as Android.
Tell us about your experience with the App Quest Contest.
The MTA and all those involved with making the competition happen have been excellent. The MTA have taken the correct approach in opening up their data and allowing the developer community to visualize and present that data in really imaginative ways. They could have kept the data to themselves, and made an MTA branded app, but these often incur high development costs and the end product is often inferior to what might have been developed on the open market. It’s also brilliant that the MTA is helping to raise awareness of the travel app economy, because this app really is a time saver that will enrich people’s lives - if only they knew it was there!