Citymapper app to launch real-life London bus service, for two days only

From May 9, the transport app will begin operating a limited route in central London: part experiment in public transport, part mass data gathering exercise, part very smart ad for the brand

Launched in 2012, Citymapper helps users plan the most efficient journey from A to B using either public transport or cycling in 40 cities. To do this, it gathers huge amounts of data which, it says, has given it considerable insight into the relative efficiency of existing bus routes.

“First we built an app to help you get around town, using open data. But we found the data needed fixing, so we built tools to do so. We also built tools to analyse the data and learned a lot about how people are moving around,” Citymapper says in a Medium post announcing the bus route. “When we studied the existing public transit routes, we realised that they don’t always serve people best, nor evolve quickly enough to accommodate changes in the city.”

Citymapper claims that its data tools allow it to “figure out how to improve existing routes in all of our cities. We can also identify new and better routes. We also feel buses haven’t evolved enough. They still roam around cities utilising old systems of operations and inefficient technology. If we’re going to solve urgent problems of congestion and infrastructure, we need buses to improve, to operate smarter. In the era of smartphones we can have responsive buses that react to realtime needs.”

The app is putting its theories to the test by operating, in co-operation with TfL, a new CMX1 route from Blackfriars, via Somerset House and Waterloo to Coin Street in South London for two days this week.

Its green-painted buses will be smaller than a regular London bus and offer USB charging. The bus itself “is wired. It’s got tracking software for real time integration with the app, passenger counting, and a driver app,” Citymapper says. “Our bus route is just like any other route. It has a route page. You can watch the buses move around the map in realtime. We show predicted arrival times on bus stop departure boards.

“Our routes show up in A to B routing whenever the algorithm decides so based on their viability and frequency. They are multimodal ready, ie combine with other transit routes when it makes sense. In other words, they are integrated with the existing infrastructure of the city.”

Citymapper is describing the whole exercise as a pop-up experiment. “We want to start with something short, simple and close to our office, so that we can test the bus tech. Londoners and others, come join us, watch an app company fumble around with learning how to run a service with real vehicles and drivers!”

The bus will be free (a licence would be required if it wanted to charge) but, in accepting the ride, passengers will be not only contributing their data to help Citymapper refine its services, but will also be taking part in what could be seen as a high-profile marketing exercise. A giant green free ad for Citymapper and its dreams of potentially running its own bus services, circling central London.

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