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How Chalo uses Google Maps Platform to transform the bus passenger experience

Vinayak Bhavnani, Co-Founder and CTO of India-based bus transport technology company Chalo, shares how Google Maps Platform is used to improve visibility for commuters and bus operators across India by visualizing geospatial data.  

Effective public transport networks contribute to the local economy and help make cities safe, pleasant, and sustainable. In India, buses make up around 90% of the public transport offering, but when you talk to the people who ride them every day, you find that there’s a lot of room for improvement. Heavy traffic means there are rarely any fixed schedules and it’s impossible to know exactly when your bus is coming. We’ve found that people tend to wait at a bus stop for up to 30 minutes a day, which creates a lot of frustration and wasted time. 

When we founded Chalo, our aim was to make the daily city commute a more positive experience. Reliability is synonymous with visibility: when you know exactly when the bus is coming, you can plan your day better. If you’re in your office, for example, and see the next bus is in 10 minutes, you can be at the stop at the exact time it arrives, instead of waiting around. To enable this, we base our solutions on richly-detailed geospatial data provided by Google Maps Platform.

Eliminating wait times and increasing revenue with geospatial data

In India, bus passengers tend to have fewer resources. The Chalo App, which can be downloaded for free, allows them to see exactly where their bus is on its route and when it will arrive at their nearest stop. They also tend to be late adopters of mobile technology, meaning we had to create an interface that was user-friendly, reassuring and adapted to all age groups and backgrounds. One of the main reasons we opted for Google Maps Platform is that it’s very present in India and other emerging markets and is familiar to our users, which inspires trust. At the same time, we like the fact that Google Maps Platform provides rich geospatial data while being simple to implement and work with. We use the Geocoding API, Reverse Geocoding, and the Directions API to enable location search and provide directions.

We also worked with MediaAgility to identify the Google Maps Platform products most suited to our needs and the best practices to be followed. This helped to ensure that our business objectives could be met efficiently.

The Chalo App also enables digital ticketing, alongside the Chalo Card, a payment card for those who don’t own a smartphone. India, like the rest of the world, is gradually moving away from cash payments, but the public transport system is proving slow to catch up, meaning people still must have cash in hand when they board the bus. Digital ticketing not only makes commuting more convenient, it also helps protect passengers, drivers and conductors during the COVID-19 health crisis by limiting physical contact. 

Chalo also offers solutions aimed at bus operators that help them improve their services and their bottom line. In major Indian cities, buses are run by a combination of public and private agencies and small private individual bus operators, with the majority of the latter only operating one or two buses. The market is very fragmented and there’s not much incentive for bus operators to invest in infrastructure or customer experience – especially when they have little to no visibility on where their fleet is at a given time, how many kilometers it travels in a day, or how much money it takes. 

The Chalo dashboard provides operators with a map-based real-time overview of bus locations, alongside scheduling features and route, ticketing, and passenger statistics. Geospatial intelligence and insight into passenger demand enable operators to explore new avenues of revenue and adapt routes and services to passenger needs. Operators who’ve partnered with Chalo report an average improvement of 10% to 30% of their bus fleet operations.

Chalo is currently powering about 100 million rides a month on 15,000 buses in 37 cities. We’d like to see the number of rides increase tenfold over the next few years. To do that, we’re looking to broaden our offer and expand to other parts of the country and across international borders. A pilot is underway in Bangkok, and we’re considering expansion into South-East Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Having access to detailed geospatial data anywhere in the world via Google Maps Platform, without having to make any major investments or changes to our technology stack, will make this considerably easier. 

At the same time, we’re exploring artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve the accuracy of our scheduling features and we’re introducing video-based solutions for people-counting on buses. Our aim is to continually improve our offering and optimize our services. We’re looking forward to working closely with Google to make that happen.  

For more information on Google Maps Platform, visit our website.

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