An app cooked up by a software developer in his free time and quietly released last month is making it easier for iPhone-carrying bus riders to get around Detroit.
Stop313, available for free in the iTunes store, determines a user's location and then shows arrival times from nearby bus routes, explained developer Evol Mark Johnson. It's great for riders who are might otherwise have to wait for long periods without knowing when their bus will show up -- a frequent problem in the city.
Johnson navigates the city by car. But he said he was struck by the many people he sees waiting for buses when he drives up Woodward Avenue to work in the suburbs.
My wife is from Detroit," Johnson said. "She used to tell me, they used to wait for long hours in the cold for the bus to get there when she was in high school. That kind of stayed with me ... if I were in that situation, I'd want to have to wait the least amount of time."
"I thought was a good project to tackle."
Johnson said he stumbled on Text My Bus, a service developed by Code For America Detroit that allows riders to receive arrival times by text message. The three fellows for the nonprofit that promotes civic engagement worked with the city and Detroit Department of Transportation to make real-time bus information accessible, not only for Text My Bus, but for other developers, like Johnson, to use.
Though he may have been in Detroit for only three years, the Costa Rica native and Compuware employee has 24 years of software development experience under his belt. Johnson worked on his app for just over two months in his free time. He said that hard work wasn't easy, but wasn't "Mission Impossible," either. His next step? Creating a version that works on Android phones. And while Johnson has other possible app ideas for the future, he wants to first make sure Stop313 is running smoothly.
Even though Stop313 is entirely independent of DDOT, it does source all of the bus authority's data, so Johnson cautions riders that a DDOT glitch could result in inaccurate information on his own app.
But he said Text My Bus, which uses the same information, had so far had few problems.
While Johnson and the Text My Bus creators aren't affiliated, their two apps share a common mission and focus. But there are some differences -- Text My Bus was purposely designed to be available to the widest range of people possible, so it relies on simple text messaging. For those who do have a smartphone, Stop313 presents the information in a more user-friendly format. Frequent riders can bookmark the routes they use most often, and users can send feedback.
"As a city we have a set of problems, which technology can really help … Text My Bus and Stop313 are really good examples of how technology can help alleviate problems citizens have," Johnson said.
"One of the things that we as developers [can do] is to see how we can help the city move forward by disseminating information and making it more readily available, and I think that's a very good use of our time."