Cincinnati web designer creates ‘Mobilizing Metro’ iPhone app

Aaron Renn recently wrote that It’s Time for America to Get On the Bus. He argues that cities should look at improving the quality of their bus service to eliminate the negative perception and attract more riders. He states that while there’s a “legitimate case for rail” in many cities (including Cincinnati), adding high-quality bus service to the plan can expand the reach of the transit network at a lower cost.

Riders of Cincinnati Metro buses would agree with Renn’s ideas. Metro is often criticized for lacking many of the “amenities” which are now common on other cities’ buses. For example, permanent shelters displaying clear route maps and real-time bus arrival information would make riding an unfamiliar route much easier. Re-loadable fare cards would eliminate the hassle of carrying exact change. Integration with Google Transit would make trip planning easier.

Fortunately, Metro is making progress on some fronts. A new communication system is in the works which will provide riders with real-time bus locations on their smart phones. New articulated buses are providing a much-needed increase in capacity for heavily-traveled routes. Improvements like these are being made as allowed by Metro’s tight budget and other grant sources.  But ideas for innovation at Metro are also coming from outside the organization.

Web designer Ian Monk came up with the idea for an iPhone app called Mobilizing Metro that makes it easier to find routes and nearby destinations.  The app would be able to pinpoint your current location and display what routes pass nearby.

Monk explains, “I distinctly remember a friend of mine, who lives right along the 17/18/19 route, thinking that the buses didn’t run on Sunday because he didn’t know when they came or where they went.”

In order to differentiate the app from similar ones, Monk decided to integrate several types of destinations into the interface.  “It can also filter them so that only destinations within a couple blocks of a chosen bus line show up,” he said.  That makes it easy to find restaurants, bars, post offices, or parks that are completely accessible by public transit, making car-free living much easier.

Monk developed a Flash-based version of the app while he was a Digital Design student at UC.  He recently entered his app into the Cincinnati Innovates competition with hopes to win funding to continue development.  If he receives one of the prizes, which range from $1,000 to $25,000, he hopes to enlist the help of another developer to create iPhone and Android versions of the app.

You can vote for the Mobilizing Metro app at Cincinnati Innovates to help Monk win one of the awards.

With advances like a mobile app, convenient fare cards, and improvements to stops, Metro will continue to attract more riders that have other transit options.  Since Metro will also operate the Cincinnati Streetcar, they have the opportunity to integrate buses and the streetcar into a seamless system.  And although we should continue to get on board with an expanded rail system, we should also make the most of the Metro system we currently have and encourage more Cincinnatians to get on the bus.

  • Mark Celsor

    I love this idea and voted for it on Cincinnati Innovates but really you probably should have titled the article “Cincinnati web designer comes up with an idea to create a ‘Mobilizing Metro’ iPhone app”. Unfortunately the gulf between a Flash prototype and a real working mobile app that ties in with Metro’s (possibly non-existant) real time route and GPS systems is probably a million dollars or so. 🙂

  • Well, he created it conceptually! Hopefully it won’t be quite that expensive to tie into Metro’s system. We can only hope that Metro sees the value in this app and would be willing to work with the developers.

  • Mark Celsor

    Agreed. I do think the app itself could be built inside the $25k budget but building a realtime bus information system for Metro would be the crazy expensive part.

  • Mark Celsor

    Sorry to continue being such a wet blanket on this post but iPhone apps and transit data are pretty exciting topics for me. I just found a copy of a contract between Washington DC and Nextbus (one of the leaders in realtime transit data collection). The initial engineering estimate to set up the system was $2,001,829 in 2006.

  • This is Jill at Metro… I don’t work on the technical side, but it sounds like this type of application could work with our new transit communications system ( The new system is scheduled to be fully operational by late 2011 and at that time, I think we’d want to work with developers like Ian Monk. (Love the app, Ian – I’ve voted!)

    We are hoping to roll out Google Transit soon! We’ve had some issues getting everything linked up because of the way our routes are structured, but please know that it is in the works.

    Thanks for writing this article, Travis!

  • Mark Celsor

    Wonderful stuff! I should have read up on the new system before coming in with so many criticisms. 🙂

  • Wow, this will be exciting!

  • terah owes

    I’m in love with the idea & all for it. I am a regular Metro user as well as an avid app user..although with the Android based system. Please find a way to include us in the app users for such a NECESSARY &WONDERFUL idea!

  • Bob

    What a great idea! Technology has so much to offer. It is amazing how far smartphones have come, pretty much small computers now that happen to have a phone antenna. Good job Ian and you certainly have my vote:)

  • Thanks Jill for sharing some details from within Metro. The new communications system should be exciting, and I have known for some time that Metro has been working with Google on the Google Transit feature, but have had some odd problems getting them to execute it.

    Honestly, I have used Google Transit a few times in Atlanta, and it often recommends strange routes for me that are not the most direct or convenient. Don’t get me wrong, I LOOOOOVE Google and most all of their applications, but Google Transit still seems like a work in progress to me…especially for bus systems where routes overlap, cross and turn so much. What I’m trying to say is that I will be much more excited for the new communication system and real-time arrival information through technologies like this.

  • Hello, i live in Cinci and i have an App idea. Are there any developers around the city?