Friday Fun: Mobile apps and your commute
A passenger on a mobile phone entering the New York City subway. Photo by momentcaptured1/Flickr.

A passenger on a mobile phone entering the New York City subway. Today’s Friday Fun reviews RideScout, a new mobile app that helps passengers compare various urban mobility choices for their desired trip. Photo by momentcaptured1/Flickr.

Successful urban mobility is predicated on increased user choice. With a variety of transportation options, citizens can choose a preferred mode based on their own priorities. In the last five years, sustainable urban mobility choices may have reached a tipping point in the world’s wired cities. Mobile technology-dependent private options, like ZipCar and Uber, have increased and customized private travel options, while new systems like bus rapid transit (BRT) and bike-sharing have caused a veritable boom in public transport options.

As a result, in most big cities today, part of the travel challenge becomes deciding what service to use. Each travel option – from bus to bike-share to metro to car-share – also offers real-time travel information to reckon with. Negotiating a constellation of mobile apps can be complicated and time-consuming.

Mobile app on trial: RideScout

A potential solution for this chore could be on the horizon with new mobile apps like RideScout. This transportation service aggregator, which launched in March 2013, compares various travel modes for a particular itinerary by price and commute time. Although it’s currently operating in the cities of Austin, Texas, and Washington, DC, – my hometown and home to many on TheCityFix team – its applications could advise commuters from Berlin to Bangkok.

I took the new app for a spin on a weekday morning in Washington, DC, where RideScout compares walking, biking, bus, Metrorail, Hailo (for taxis), Car2Go, SideCar, and Capital Bikeshare. After signing up and entering in my starting location and destination, a list of options popped up listed by either lowest price or fastest arrival time. The cheapest option was cost-free walking or biking, followed by Metro bus. The shortest trip was the ride-sharing service SideCar. The real fun, however, came from comparing similar services. For commutes, I can determine if it’s worth it to head straight to the bus stop or grab my helmet to hop on a Capital Bikeshare bike. When I’m in a hurry, I can screen taxis, ride-shares, and car-shares to hire a vehicle in the shortest time.

Impressions and recommendations for the future

I hope that future iterations of this app include more travel options, like Uber, ZipCar, and Lyft, and allow users to choose their locations on a map instead of entering an address character by excruciating character. There is also only one Metro option (either bus or rail), even though the two modes compete with one another. Finally, I’m hopeful that the cost of Capital Bikeshare, currently listed as a flat rate of USD$7/24 hours, will evolve to reflect the rate you pay with membership – no charge if the ride is under 30 minutes long.

On the plus side, though, RideScout has some great features. It shows vehicle availability – the nearest Car2Go or bike-share stock to your origin and destination – and factors walking distance into the calculation of travel time. Also, integration with membership services allows users to book vehicles from their phones.

As urban mobility grows and diversifies, mobile technologies like the RideScout app will be integral to increasing the efficiency of transportation use. The right app can mean the difference between waiting in the cold for your next ride and sailing to your destination ahead of the crowd.

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