Ever since smartphones entered our lives, I think it’s safe to say the majority of us can’t seem to leave home without them.
While we may use these apps once in a while, there are other apps – or form of apps – that we use everyday for convenience.
For people who commute by bus everyday, checking the SG Buses app or the Iris app when waiting for the bus help to make your mornings more efficient.
But there are often times when we’re on an unfamiliar bus route, and we have no idea where and when to alight.
So, here’s what this guy did: built an app from scratch to tell commuters when and where to board and most importantly, the exact stop to alight at.
An App That Solves Every Bus Rider’s Problem
Deepank Vora started work on the Alight app last year, when he was just 24 and holding a full-time job.
Brought up in India, Deepank fell in love with computer science in secondary school when he took his first programming class.
It amazed me how one can build things out of nowhere and potentially affect billions of lives.
He added, “I must say that I am extremely fortunate to have been brought up by parents who never forced me to take up specific courses and let me follow my heart and do things that I enjoyed doing.”
Having lived in Singapore for seven years, this computer engineer who came to Singapore at the age of 18 to pursue his Bachelors in Nanyang Technological University (NTU), noticed that bus rides can be a hassle.
As an avid bus rider, Deepank feels that Singapore has one of the best bus networks in the world – but to have to keep looking out of the window anxiously or jerk awake in the middle of a bus ride nap can be quite annoying.
Unlike our MRTs that announces station names as they approach, only a few bus services are fitted with the small LED display on the ceiling of the bus.
There is also no way to find out how long it will take for the bus rider to reach his/her destination like the boards at the respective MRT stations.
He analysed the problems and designed the Alight app to address them.
And all he spent was $200 on the server, the domain name, and the Apple developer membership fee. He also spent a lot of his free time after work and during the weekends to fine-tune the app.
He launched a beta version of the app and invited his friends to try the app which gave him invaluable feedback.
That allowed him to fix any bugs and issues before he launched a functional and reliable Alight app to the public on 3 August this year.
No More Jumping Out Of Your Seat On A Long Bus Ride
I tried the Alight app myself.
The app automatically detects the bus stop nearest to you, but if not, you can always search for the bus stop with keywords or the stop number.
Tap on the bus stop and it will show you a list of bus services that go to that bus stop.
The list also shows the amount of time that the bus will take to come so you’ll know when to hop on.
Next, the app will prompt you to choose the destination and it will show the duration of the trip at the top of the screen. The app will notify you when you need to ‘hop-off’.
The Alight app has an intuitive real-time ride tracker showing the bus’ current location in the bus route.
At this point, the app doesn’t need Internet connection so you can turn off your mobile data and catch some snooze on the bus in peace.
The app will send two alerts to the user – the first when the user’s stop is next, and the second alert to reaffirm the user that this is the stop to alight!
When I asked Deepank if he has any plans to monetise the app, he said,
I think everyone should have the right for easier public transportation without paying a fee, thus I plan to keep the app free. But, in order for Alight to be sustainable, I am planning to add in-app advertisements in a way that does not hurt the user experience. Users who prefer not to see advertisements should be able to pay a small fee to remove them.
One of the major upcoming feature, Deepank shared, aims to make it even simpler for users who use the same bus service everyday.
So, if they were going to work, they can save their trips so they only need a few taps to check the bus arrival time and track their ride ‘live’ once they are aboard the bus.
Although he doesn’t have any concrete plans to develop the Alight app for use in other countries, Deepank designed the app in a way that makes it easy to scale up to other regions.
The data layer, which varies from city to city, is separated from the core functionality of the product and is built in a way that makes it really simple to plug in data for different cities.
He expresses excitement at the thought of making Alight available in other regions in the future.
When I asked Deepank what advice would he give to people who aspire to develop or are in the midst of developing their own app from scratch, he gave me a very thoughtful reply,
I think we must embrace the fact that building something of value has to be an iterative process. Anyone who creates something should constantly seek feedback, not just by talking to users, but putting their product in users’ hands and analysing how they actually use it. This is what I learnt when I launched the Beta version of Alight and realised that the app’s design needed to be [adjusted] based on how people used the app to provide a more meaningful user experience. So, one should not be hell-bent on a particular design of the product, but rather make sure that it is something that users actually want.
What other features do you think will make Alight even more useful? Adding in an MRT function as well, and maybe adding bus information like whether the upcoming bus is wheelchair-friendly or not? Tell us what you think.
Featured Image Credit: Deepank Vora