App maps 'best' travel route for you

App maps 'best' travel route for you
PHOTO: The New Paper

The MRT Downtown Line 2 will open in a little over two weeks from now, but a transport app has already gone "live" with travel tips for the 12-station stretch linking Singapore's north-west corridor to the city.

A trip from Bukit Panjang to Chinatown currently takes 54 minutes by bus and the North-East Line but Citymapper, which originated in London and is now available in 28 cities, shows the same journey by the Downtown Line 2 would take just 35 minutes.

Launched in Singapore in April, Citymapper - which smartphone users can download for free - provides travel options according to time, cost and even energy expended.

For example, it says walking from Toa Payoh North to the Science Centre would take 221 minutes and burn 919 calories; cycling would take 81 minutes and use 296 calories; and it would take 60-64 minutes by public transport, with fares ranging from $1.85 to $1.92.

A trip to Pulau Ubin includes ferry service information. Occasionally, it has a tongue-in-cheek "Jetpack" option.

Citymapper also gives an Uber option, but none for taxis.

Citymapper general manager Gene Soo said this is because Uber's data is available in API - application programme interface, a "language" enabling computers to "talk" to each other.

With API, large volumes of data - both static and real-time - become easily accessible and usable.

Mr Soo said that is how Citymapper has been able to proliferate in 28 cities - just four years after it started as BusMapper, a London bus-guide app.

"In many cities, governments feel it is in their interest to promote public transport, so they help us with data," said Mr Soo. "Anyway, this is publicly available data."

He said Citymapper is not just a transit guide, but also a "door-to-door" travel planner. The app also tells users where the walking and biking paths are.

For cyclists, it gives three route options: fast, regular and quiet. For train commuters, it has tips on which carriage is nearest to an escalator at the desired destination.

"You can even share where you are along a route," Mr Soo added. "That's useful if your friends are waiting for you at a restaurant, and they are waiting to be seated."

It also allows users to plan ahead. Say, if a Bedok Reservoir resident needs to be in Raffles Place at 8.30am the next day, it suggests the time he should leave home.

First-time user and freelance scriptwriter Denise Julia Tan, 20, said: "The app seems pretty in-depth. But for a journey to The Verge in Serangoon from my home in Bartley, it suggested the Woodleigh MRT Station instead of the nearer Serangoon Station. That's a 14-minute walk instead of a 10-minute walk."

Mr Soo said improvements are being made. For instance, there is a plan to provide rail disruption alerts and suggest alternative travel plans.

The information is available but incomplete at the moment, and Citymapper is working to make it comprehensive, he said.

Mr Soo revealed that Citymapper is working with the Land Transport Authority on developing a journey planner that includes information such as the best sheltered route home when it rains, the smoothest route by train if you are carrying a foldable bicycle, and the easiest route for prams.

Asked about Citymapper's business plan, Mr Soo, who is based in Hong Kong, admitted: "We don't have one yet. We are focusing all our energy on developing the best transport app."

He said the initiative is funded by European venture capitalists.

New York, Paris, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Toronto and Amsterdam are among the 28 cities the app is available in. It comes in several languages, including Chinese, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Dutch and French.

This article was first published on December 12, 2015.
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