For the huddled masses

Casual-Mobile is developing the first real-time traffic, scheduling and information application for bus passengers.

Egged bus 520 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Egged bus 520
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
For all the highfalutin talk about saving energy and encouraging the use of public transportation, people who take the bus, as Rodney Dangerfield would say, don’t get no respect – no respect at all. Especially in the world of transportation software.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of applications out there to help drivers, but not too many to help bus riders. Until now, that is – thanks to Israel’s Casual- Mobile (, which is developing the first real-time traffic, scheduling and information application for bus passengers.
Rafi Ton, CEO of Casual-Mobile, is one of those who really try to do the “right thing.” He lives in in Yokne’am. And he tries to take the bus when he can. That can be a lethal combination to any attempt to build a logical, reliable schedule, as anyone who lives in a suburban, rural or peripheral area and has to rely on the bus knows. And Ton, a victim of bus unreliability, decided he wasn’t just going to sit back and take it anymore.
Ton didn’t start out with the idea of becoming an advocate for bus passenger rights, but he felt he had no choice. “The application was born out of a bus trip I took from Yokne’am to Tel Aviv with my kids. It was frustrating; we had no idea when the bus was going to come, and how long it would really take to get to where we were going in real time.”
That’s the key to Casual-Mobile’s new app, says Ton; while most bus companies supply basic scheduling information, such as when the bus is supposed to arrive, none give passengers real-time information about when the bus is going to arrive if it’s delayed by traffic – leaving passengers to stare out at the horizon with puzzled looks, gaping ahead and glancing at their watches as they ponder the fate of their ride and schedule.
Not only that. No bus website suggests routes to passengers based on the address they are leaving from and the address they are going to; usually, you can only search by bus line. And what if there are major traffic problems on the route you’ve chosen? Maybe there are alternative bus routes you can take to get you where you have to go faster and cheaper? But the bus company won’t tell you about those, either.
Drivers, on the other hand, get all that information – and more. Waze (, for example, is a cellphone app made here that provides drivers with real-time updates on where the traffic jams are – and suggests alternative routes from address to address. It lets drivers communicate with each other, tells drivers where the police are giving out tickets, where there are accidents, stalled vehicles and rubberneckers, and uses driver reports to build the most upto- date maps of local roads. Clearly, the technology is out there, and if they can write an app like that for cars, why can’t they write one like that for buses? TON IS just as puzzled as to why it took so long for bus passengers to get respect, but he’s quite happy to fill that gap. “Nowadays almost everyone has smart phones, so if in the past there was a stigma to bus passengers that perhaps they didn’t have the equipment to use such an application, that no longer applies.”
Whether to save money or save energy, more and more people say they are willing to take the bus – and, says Ton, his smartphone app will make it much easier for everyone to do just that.
Accessing real-time bus information is actually easy – most buses today are equipped with fleet management software that tells dispatchers the exact location of each bus at all times. Based on the location of the bus as reported to the dispatcher, Ton’s program can determine the speed of the bus (seeing how far it has moved in a given number of minutes, based on location read by its GPS system) and make a very accurate and constantly updated prediction as to when it will get to each stop. In addition, the app lets passengers input a start and end address, and suggests bus routes they can take. And, it allows for “crowd sourcing” information – letting users send messages to other users about events on the road (accidents, incidents, etc.) or just to talk.
The app will be ready in about a month (it’s being tested in the North right now), and will be free to users, first here, and later in several European countries, for residents of that country. Users going abroad will be able to subscribe to the bus information for that country (“It will be a lot cheaper than renting a car,” says Ton). And there will be plenty of opportunities for income, Ton adds; once he organizes passengers into communities, advertisers will pay for the valuable data mining the app does to target passengers with the appropriate ads.
“For example, businesses catering to the youth market could target the students who take buses to school in the morning. It goes beyond advertising in the app,” he adds. “Advertisers will be able to use this information to figure out which billboards to post along the route, depending on who is traveling on the route and when.”
This isn’t the first app Ton has developed – the company has a highly praised smartphone game called Simon, as well as several business apps. But the bus app is likely to be a game changer, he says. “We’ve gotten a lot of interest from all sorts of groups. There are a lot of groups that will be very happy with this app, from government to green groups,” Ton says.
But we know who will really be happy with the app – those huddled masses in the bus shelter who at least will soon be able to know how long they are going to have to wait.