iPhone apps for public transport users is next big thing

7 Oct 2008

Personalised information for bus passengers, tailored maps and online payment on the go via your iPhone is about to become a reality for millions of US public transport users.

An Irish technology company called Mapflow yesterday unveiled a new technology at the annual meeting of the American Public Transit Association (APTA).

The company, which was acquired by US millionaire businessman Sean O’Sullivan last year for US$6.1m, has developed a new technology called Avego Futurefleet which combines next-generation computing of devices such as the iPhone with Web 2.0, SMS, RTPI and online ticketing.

The company, which has deployed mapping systems for the European Space Agency, the AA and BT, has created a technology that allows managers of public buses, shuttles, coaches and vanpools to reach commuters and fill empty seats.

The Avego system combines mainstream consumer technologies such as inexpensive GPS devices, SMS or email messaging, online booking and payment systems with open transportation protocols to offer operators a real-time passenger information (RTPI) and ticketing system that can be deployed in weeks, at a cost more than 10 times cheaper than previously available.

“In today’s environment, with rising gas prices, every empty seat represents untapped revenue potential for a transport operator,” said Sean O’Sullivan, Mapflow chairman.

“Avego recognises the tremendous cost advantage of bus systems over other forms of transport, and is helping operators tap into burgeoning customer demand by enabling operators to offer these seats in real-time to tech-savvy consumers,” O’Sullivan said.

The system includes a free online journey planner capability to give instant scheduling and fare information and ticketing options to passengers either online or via the iPhone.

It also provides iPhone, SMS and email support to offer bus passengers RTPI on bus locations, schedules and routing options.

For the transport operators, the technology includes in-vehicle 7-inch data terminals with GPS and audio capabilities integrated with a web ticketing and vehicle tracking system, as well as a departure board RTPI capability that works both online and offline.

The system has already been deployed in Ireland for the country’s largest private bus operator JJ Kavanagh & Sons.

“In this era of instant information, we want to provide our customers with personalised real-time departure and arrival information, as well as digital ticketing,” said the compay’s IT and business development manager, Adam Buckeridge.

“We’ve been working with Avego to roll out these capabilities both online and throughout our fleet in Ireland.”

It is understood that several of Mapflow’s Avego Futurefleet capabilities are available at no cost to transport operators, while the mobile data terminals can be deployed at a cost of US$995 per vehicle.

“A central problem in the transport industry is not a lack of vehicles or infrastructure; it is the inability to easily communicate and connect the huge number of riders with the huge number of empty seats that are wasted every day,” said Harvey Applebe, Avego co-founder and CTO of Mapflow.

“Our goal is to address this problem one seat and one passenger at a time. Avego Futurefleet is the ideal solution for empowering transport operators to join us in this quest by eliminating wasted capacity while dramatically increasing revenue and profits,” Applebe said.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: the Apple iPhone 3G could soon prove its worth on public transport

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years