TransportMe founder Nigel Tooth says the new apps are just the start. Source: Supplied
An Australian start-up focused on bringing the clunky ticketing systems featured in buses across rural and regional Australia up to speed has stretched its horizons, with its real-time bus tracking app now available to the public.
Coffs Harbour-based TransportMe, launched in 2013, is the brainchild of a duo all too familiar with the ossified nature of the back-end operations of the bus business.
Founders Nigel Tooth and his sister Naomi Geurts have deep roots in the NSW bus industry, both of them are heirs to the enduring legacy of Ryan’s Bus Service that has operated in the Coffs Harbour area for over 70 years. For Tooth, the great grandson of Ryan’s Bus Service founder Vic Ryan, the old ways of running the buses just weren’t adding up anymore.
“We moved into ticketing systems a while ago and these machines were pretty basic, I like to call them a brick, they could sell tickets and that’s about it,” he said.
“Drivers had some issues with them and it was costing us money to get them repaired.”
Apart from being clunky “bricks”, the machines cost anywhere between $3,000 and $5,000 to maintain and Mr Tooth said that a plan to install GPS on the buses a couple of year ago really forced him to re-evaluate the value of keeping them around.
“When it came to installing the GPS into the buses I just couldn’t justify expense for the fact that all we were going to get was the location information,” he said.
Armed with his iPad, Mr Tooth set out to build a comprehensive system that bundled ticketing, GPS tracking and a host of other features under one umbrella.
TransportMe’s patented app and CMS allows bus drivers to use iPad Minis as the primary input point for transactions and the platform also streamlines the route information, compliance and reporting functions.
“With the old machines we had to download the data by attaching a device to the side of every machine, on every bus, and then send it up to Grafton which took a day or so to come back,” he said.
“We had to then download the data into a computer, generate the report and then physically enter the data into Excel spreadsheets. Now, each time a driver enters a route it’s uploaded on to the cloud by the CMS, you press a button and it’s a five-second job to generate a report.”
“You can get an iPad Mini for 500 bucks, so compared to a traditional ticket machine we are also looking at one sixth of the cost for rural operators,” he added.
The system, developed with the aid of equity shareholder Appster, has been particularly attractive to rural operators, many of whom can’t afford to invest the thousands of dollars needed to rollout ticketing machines.
“There are heaps of operators out there who are writing things down on pads. If you only have six to eight buses you can’t spend the $20,000 for the systems,” Mr Tooth said.
“These operators are reaching out to us and we give them a discount, we charge a subscription fee that’s about a third of what it would cost them to implement a GPS system on their buses.”
With the TransportMe system gaining traction in the industry, Mr Tooth said that creating an app for passengers was the next logical step for the start-up.
“We got to the point where the operator-version of the app was working well, so we thought why not provide a service that rural users and parents have never had access to,” he said.
“We could have sat here and done nothing and put the money back into the business and make the operator-app better but we thought the timing was just right.”
The app available on both on iOS and Android for free, provides a real-time tracking App to the rural and regional public.
According to Mr Tooth, the real-time functionality creates a direct link between customers and the bus operators, which in turn can lead to better service delivery. Another important benefit of the app is the peace of mind it promises to deliver to daily school bus runs.
The immediacy of the service means that parents can stay on top of the timetables and, according to Mr Tooth, they get a level of visibility that, until now, has been unheard of in rural areas.
‘Parents can now watch as their child’s bus is travelling down the road — this is a huge step forward in rural and regional areas — and, in fact, anywhere in Australia,” he said.
The tracking function is just the first step for the TransportMe app, with plans to add new layers of services like social media integration, a messaging function and, according to Mr Tooth, they’ll also fine tune the information that customers receive from the operators.
“In rural areas we have to make sure that a percentage of our fleet is DDA compliant (wheelchair access provided) but having the buses doesn’t mean that the public know whether a wheelchair accessible bus is available or not for a scheduled service,” he said.
“With the app we can make sure that when the drivers log on they can verify that it’s a low floor bus and the passenger can not only track the service but also the type of service.”
There are also plans to launch a TransportMe smart card, which Mr Tooth said will let children tap on and off the bus and allow parents to be keep track of their movements via the app.
The TransportMe app currently allows passengers to track their bus in the following areas: Albury, Muswellbrook, Coffs Harbour, Woolgoolga, Grafton, Taree, Melbourne and Emerald (QLD).