Smartphone app updates bus proximity in real time

The iPhone and Android app NetBus is the brainchild of four young men who came up with the idea during their army service.

By
May 22, 2013 23:44
3 minute read.
NETBUS FOUNDERS Snir Machluf, Shimon Tohami, David Vatine and Liav Sagron (from left)

NetBus founders 370. (photo credit: Nataly Avital)

 
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Rather than pacing at a bus stop wondering why the 8 a.m. line still has yet to show up at 8:15, Israeli travelers are now able to take advantage of a smartphone application that provides updates about their bus’s proximity in real time.

The iPhone and Android app NetBus is the brainchild of four young men who came up with the idea during their army service and are equal partners in the firm – chief financial officer Snir Machluf, chief technology officer Shimon Tohami, chief marketing officer David Vatine and chief sales officer Liav Sagron.

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Frustrated that buses rarely arrived on time at the bus station closest to their Mitkan Adam army base – a 2-km. walk away – the team decided to take action, conjuring up the idea in January 2012 and launching their company in May of that year, Machluf told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

“Google Maps tells you what line you have to take,” he said. “But most of the people use the bus every day and they know the exact line they are using, but they don’t know when to get to the station.”

In order to solve the problem, the team members approached the Transportation Ministry, where they soon discovered that every bus in Israel is equipped with a GPS signal. They were able to access that signal through the ministry’s open application program interface and knew from there that they could provide real-time bus updates to waiting travelers, according to Machluf.

Upon opening the app, the traveler encounters a simple and user-friendly interface set on a classic school-bus yellow and black color scheme. The first step is to scroll through a dial to indicate the number of the desired bus line, and then press “search bus.”

After conducting the search, the app reveals a list of buses corresponding to that number near the user, with station choices listed in order of geographical proximity. At the top of that page, the user can choose the preferred direction of the line.



Upon clicking on the desired station, the user arrives at a page integrated with Google Maps that shows all of the nearby stops in black and the chosen one in yellow, with a white bus. On the top of the screen is a to-the-second countdown of the bus’s estimated time of arrival at the station as well as a moving yellow-and-black bus symbol that indicates the vehicle’s approximate current location.

The app receives updates from the GPS signals every 30 seconds and updates accordingly, Machluf explained.

Waiting at the station, the traveler can see the 5-4-3-2-1 final countdown as the bus doors open for him, more or less. When the Post tried using the app on Wednesday, the first time was almost exactly accurate, while the second was accurate within about 20 seconds.

Also readily available on the app is a push notification option that allows travelers to request alerts when their bus is a designated number of minutes away.

Thus far, 200,000 people have downloaded the app total, Machluf said. In the Android’s Google Play store, 50,000 downloads had occurred and the app had received a 4.5 out of 5 score averaged from 766 ratings.

As of now, the app is available only in Hebrew, but most of the interface involves numbers, aside from the bus stop name and direction.

Financially, the Ra’ananabased start-up has received two investments and is currently strategizing how to become profitable in the future. One attractive way that public transportation apps can become lucrative is when bus companies or research firms use them to conduct data compilations or academic studies, Machluf noted.

While NetBus is considering whether to place advertisements in the app, Machluf promised that “it’s free and will always be free.”

Stressing the importance of maintaining bus security in Israel, Machluf said that Net- Bus and users never receive the exact location of buses from the Transportation Ministry.

“Here in Israel, because of security issues, the Transportation Ministry gives you only the arrival time to the station,” he said.

The company is not planning to limit its activities to Israel, however, and is planning to expand to markets overseas – though Machluf would not specify where. His hope is that by having a more convenient method to use public transportation, more people will take advantage of this mode of travel.

“You don’t have the pain of having to wait at the station for a half hour,” he said.

“We’re managing the time.”

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