If the purpose of technology is greater efficiency, the SLO Transit app seems to be doing the job.
For child development junior Dominique Boyer, there was a clear shift after she began using the app, which allows users to track the movement of San Luis Obispo’s public buses in real time. She now uses the bus app every time she rides the bus. She can show up at her stop just minutes before the bus arrives.
“I appreciate whoever created it,” Boyer said. “It’s a lot easier to use than the pamphlet.”
The app was developed by Bishop Peak Technology, a San Luis Obispo-based startup. The city has recently partnered with Bishop Peak to pay for the app, making it the official transit app of San Luis Obispo.
John Osumi, the company’s chief executive officer, said the bus tracking app began as a project five years ago in his friends’, Zach Negrey and Jeff Brown’s, Android developing class.
“Zach and Jeff, who were in that class at the time, the two co-founders, they originally came up with the idea while just waiting, just thinking, ‘Well, we need an idea for an app, we need an idea for this class, what can we do?’ and Zach started complaining about, ‘Oh well, I have to catch a bus!’” Osumi said.
Negrey and Brown came to Osumi, who was not in the class, and asked him to help with the app’s GPS code. He agreed. A year later Negrey and Brown asked him to come on as the company’s CEO.
After the app was first released, it gained attention from Apple, who wanted to use it on their company bus system. This moment prompted an attitude shift in the developers.
“That was a validating point. It really proved that the idea that we had, the proof of concept, the prototype essentially, that we had built had somewhere to go,” Osumi said.
Osumi joined Bishop Peak to turn the app from a project into a money-making opportunity during the Apple deal.
Bishop Peak decided they would sell their app to cities to use with their public transit but quickly realized future deals wouldn’t be as simple as the Apple one.
“Doing business with government is a very complex process,” Osumi said. “More than just the best product, the best price. Its more than that, it goes far deeper.”
Osumi said that as a young company they had extra challenges to overcome, like proving to buyers they could be taken seriously despite their lack of history, and that the company wouldn’t go belly-up after cities had decided to spend tax dollars on their product.
The company’s first paying government client was Vacaville, California. This first contract was an important moment for the company, Osumi said. It gave them credibility and opened up contacts within other city governments.
The company now has nine employees and has expanded its app range beyond California, such as now having a transit app for Missoula, Montana.
San Luis Obispo, the app’s original partner while it was being developed, has recently opted to begin paying for the app.
San Luis Obispo Transit Manager Gamaliel Anguiano said the decision to purchase the app wasn’t made due to a specific issue, but was the formalization of the relationship that had existed before. Now that Bishop Peak is expanding and selling its service to other customers, San Luis Obispo felt it was time to begin paying.
Bishop Peak did not demand San Luis Obispo pay for the app, but Anguiano said the agreement is important for the ongoing support and maintenance of the app.
The city gains some unique benefits from the app beyond increased utility for users. The app allows the city to audit its vehicles and drivers, check fuel consumption, track routes, integrate with the buses’ on-board electronics and more, Osumi said.
The city is at the beginning of creating its bus transit plan for the next five years, Anguiano said. The app and its analytics will be one tool the city and its consultants will have access to when they decide what changes may need to be made to the city’s buses and routes.
But right now, riders may be concerned with buses running late, or perhaps not being picked up at all when the bus is too full.
Changes at Cal Poly have the potential to exacerbate some of these problems.
In fall of 2015, Cal Poly is slated to lose almost 500 parking spaces due to new construction, which could lead to more strain on the bus system. Transit Assistant Dee Lawson said the bus system will be able to handle the extra capacity. Lawson said that when a bus is too full and skips stops, the driver calls for a sweeper bus to pick up the extra passengers.
San Luis Obispo is now a client, and Osumi said there are projects in the works he is excited to talk about, but could not yet. As for the app, Osumi said Bishop Peak is focused on making it more effective and utilitarian, rather than cramming it with extra features.