North Dakota, USA: FARGO—Waiting at a bus stop on a frigid January day can be miserable, even for a North Dakota native. It can be downright unbearable for international students like Kalith Kumasaru.
The native of Sri Lanka relied on MATBUS as an undergrad at North Dakota State University.
“Driving on very snowy roads, it’s dangerous,” Kumasaru said. “I always preferred to take the bus because you don’t have to go through that.”
Now the co-founder and chief technical officer for web and app development firm Thiken, Kumasaru recently proposed building an app that would minimize the time riders have to wait outdoors for the bus.
His business partners, Pasindu Withanage and Pavithra Lamahewa, who are also NDSU grads from Sri Lanka, were on board.
“We wanted something like this back in the day. … We want to do it for the community. That’s the idea behind MTracker,” Lamahewa said. They hope to debut the MTracker app later this month. While there are already websites and apps like MATBUSMobile.com and RouteShout that do something similar, Lamahewa said MTracker will offer a more personalized experience. Users can enter their planned route and receive a push notification when the bus is near their stop.
“You can actually have your schedule on the app if you are a student,” he said. “Then, we can automatically calculate the times on our backend. On the app, you can decide how much time before you want the notification. For example, we can let you know the bus is coming in five minutes.”
The app uses MATBUS’ API, or application program interface, and Google Maps to calculate distance and give an estimated arrival time. Kumasaru said they plan to roll out additional features in the future.
They do not plan to charge for the app.
“We got a lot of help from the Fargo community. It’s so close-knit and we want to give back. This is our first step towards that goal,” Lamahewa said.
Are snowplows next?
Could the same technology be used to track metro cities’ snow plows?
West Fargo residents have been able to log onto the city’s website to track plows since 2013, but the same is not true for Fargo and Moorhead.
Public Works officials say city plows are equipped with automatic vehicle location systems, but that the data is only used internally for route optimization.
Fargo Public Works Services Manager Mark Williams said it is because they feel the data is still somewhat unreliable.
“We’ve monitored other cities, how the line turns colour (on the website’s city map) as the plow moves, but that data is not always accurate,” he said. “The problem is where there is inaccurate data conveyed over the Internet, what you get is a dissatisfied customer.”
He said the department is, however, committed to improving technology and would be open to working with developers in the future.