Good Bus (Part 1/3)
What happens when an app company runs a bus
In Part 3, we’re going to announce our most significant innovation yet, accompanied by a real launch in London.
But hold your horses, this is Part 1, where we tell you about all the fun we’ve been having as an app company that decided to run a bus, and what we’ve accomplished.
As a refresher, we built an app, people used it a lot, we analysed mobility data to find gaps in the transport network, found an opportunity in the night network in East London, and ran a night bus: CM2.
Oh, and we made it a smartbus.
Here’s what we learned.
Minibuses are good for congested cities
It’s a vehicle type missing in cities like London and Paris, but found in many emerging markets. Minibuses are more dynamic and responsive than large buses. They can be a better fit for the geography of European cities with their narrow streets and road complexity.
And yes, you can paint them green.
“The bus is extremely cosy. It’s the cleanest, most comfortable — and definitely the warmest — bus we’ve ever been on”- The Londonist
Buses can be a good time
The minibus form factor also creates a friendlier environment. We found people more likely to acknowledge each other and create conversation.
On the other hand, these were weekend nights in East London, so…
“The most unusual thing about it was that people — strangers, no less — were breaking the №1 rule of using public transport in London: Don’t talk to anyone.” - CNET
Humans like music
Well, at least on a night bus they do.
Humans like USB chargers
Well, if you make an app that uses up charge, you might as well give some back?
Humans like Busmojis 🐙 🐒 🦄
We wanted to improve the bus experience, by somehow tying the app and bus together. One of our users’ favourite app features is the ‘get off’ alert for bus stops. We decided to have more fun with this and give each user a unique emoji on their app, which shows on the internal display when it’s time to get off.
And thus was invented the Busmoji!
An app alone can market a new service
Traditionally, bus operators advertise extensively to promote their service, updating physical bus stops and local advertising, even for minor changes. This is expensive and cumbersome.
We drove awareness and traffic from our app, without using any other means, even with the route covering a small fraction of our user base. In fact, this was a particularly tough route, since it only runs late at night, and lacks the recurring users of a commuter route. And yet we still managed to generate unique users every weekend.
This is positive news for a more digital and responsive future for buses.
A ‘smarter’ bus can be built by spending less
We built the entire technology stack for a bus, starting in our own office. We built a driver app, a smart display, tracking software, scheduling systems, control systems, even strange flashing headsigns.
We have been able to run our buses smoothly. We made software updates, even during live operations. We provided accurate realtime data in our app, as well as supporting open data.
All at a fraction of the cost of what traditional bus systems do.
Our open data has been incorporated by major journey planners
We built an app using open data from TfL, and utilising maps and platforms from Google and Apple.
Now Google, Apple and TfL show our bus in their apps and planners.. sending people to our bus!
We didn’t mess things up
Believe us, one of the greatest things one can achieve in the bus industry is simply not to mess things up.
We didn’t mess things up (touch wood).
And thus, we go on to the next round.
Good bus? Bad bus?
So yes, it’s been good fun, and we’ve learned a lot.
But if we’re honest, it’s been quite frustrating and challenging. We haven’t been able to do any of the really innovative things we wanted.
In the next part, we’ll tell you about the challenges we’ve faced and why we believe the bus industry is stuck in the past. And why the change it requires is more fundamental.
And then, we’ll tell you what we’re going to do about it.
And then, we’re going to do it.