Getting Creative with New Orleans Public Transit

September 5, 2012

If taking the bus or the streetcar in New Orleans sometimes feels like a waiting game, a new app now under development is shaping up to be a game changer.

“With our app you’ll have a map, and you’ll have a real time cursor that’s updated, and an icon that represents where the streetcar is, so you never have that question lingering, is it going to be here in four hours, will it be here in five minutes?” says local software developer Chris Boyd.

Boyd is founder of Apptitude, a New Orleans company that makes apps for iPhones and iPads. He’s talking about his latest project, an app called Ride. It’s designed to collect GPS data from the Regional Transit Authority’s buses and streetcars as they make their rounds, and then make that data instantly accessible to people wherever they are through their mobile devices.

Ride should make its debut soon, and it’s part of a push to make public transit in New Orleans a little more user friendly. It’s happening now thanks to collaboration between the RTA, private developers like Apptitude and a nonprofit advocacy group called Transport for NOLA. Rachel Heiligman is executive director of Transport for NOLA and she says her group wants to help New Orleans build a world-class transit system.

“That means a system where the buses and streetcars are running on schedule, where they’re running frequently, where you’re not sort of pulling your hair out while you’re waiting for a streetcar and seeing three come by at once,” says Heiligman. “So how do we begin to think about these issues that a public transit rider deals with daily and make that system is easier to use for people who are already using transit, you know on a regular basis, and also for those people who want to try transit but feel that it’s not dependable, reliable enough to get to where they need to go?”

Transport for NOLA is working toward that goal on a number of fronts. There are big-picture issues, like advocating for a commuter rail line that could someday connect New Orleans and its airport. And then there are more immediate concerns, like pushing the RTA to make sure there is seating, shelter and facilities at big transit transfer points around the city.

“The base line level of participation in public transportation and transit issues is pretty low in New Orleans, even though you’ve got 40,000 passengers daily using the public transit system here,” says Heiligman. “And so what we want to do is help get information out about the decisions that are being considered and policies that are being weighed by decision makers while also providing educational opportunities for folks to get involved and weigh in on that process.”

The collaboration with Apptitude is one example of how that’s taking shape. By making it easier for people to plan their trips, the Ride app could increase ridership, decrease the number of cars on the road and boost revenues for the RTA itself. It’s the kind of community-driven innovation that Boyd thinks we’ll see more of as Transport for NOLA’s work continues.

“It’s taking different ideas and trying to make the best app possible,” he says. “I take the streetcar or ride the bus almost every day, so as a rider I can appreciate it as well as a developer.”

Written by Ian McNulty for the Community IMPACT Series and produced by WWNO in partnership with the Greater New Orleans Foundation. For information on Transport for NOLA, click here.