Background

Urban Innovation Challenge 2018, organized by United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Maldives in partnership with Ooredoo, brought together 32 young and creative minds with the aim of finding solutions to three main challenges faced by the rising urban population in Hulhumale’; Social Housing, Public Littering in Urban Areas, Strengthening the Public Transport Mechanism. These 3 challenges were mentored by Housing Development Corporation (HDC), Waste Management Corporation Limited (WAMCO) and Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) respectively. Team Niyama is a combination of all the efforts made by participants who proposed innovative solutions to strengthen the public transport mechanism. While all these ideas were unique and creative on its own, the main gist of these were similar. Hence, the organizers felt that a more comprehensive and effective solution can be produced if all 4 teams joined hands in tackling the challenge. The result is “Vehin”; an application that enables users to access information on real-time location of the bus, bus schedules and bus routes.

Objectives

  1. To facilitate information dissemination of MTCC public bus services,
  2. To increase the number of MTCC public bus users by making the bus service more reliable and efficient.
  3. To shorten the waiting time at the bus stops by providing real-time bus information accessible from home,
  4. To boost the quality of MTCC public bus service by creating a platform to ensure and monitor the punctuality of the buses, and
  5. To provide a scalable tool for MTCC to connect with the public and incorporate all its services into one platform.

Project Brief

“Vehin” is a mobile application that can be used on both iOS and Android platforms. Moreover, for those who do not want to download and install the mobile application, this information will also be made accessible via the web application, and also be displayed on smart displays in the bus stops. Furthermore, the application aims to provide essential information regarding the MTCC public bus service. This application introduces real-time bus tracking and provides estimated bus arrival times, the bus schedule and the routes taken by these buses.

Market Research

Prior to the application development, a market research was conducted to understand the user perception towards the MTCC public bus service, the challenges faced by users and their respective solutions. Additionally, a survey was conducted to identify the features to be included in the application based on user’s preference. This survey questionnaire was circulated among bus users in the Greater Male’ Region. A total of 88 participants completed this online questionnaire from which 39 were male and 49 were female.

The key findings of the market research include;

  1. 90% of the respondents noted that the current waiting time is over 5 minutes,
  2. Only 13% of the respondents are aware of the information available on the MTCC website. Other respondents obtain information regarding the bus service through friends/family, familiarity and frequent use. It is unfortunate that 10% of the respondents noted that they simply wait for the bus, unaware of when it will arrive,
  3. When asked what needs to be improved in the MTCC public bus service, the majority of the respondents highlighted the issue of schedule unavailability and punctuality of the buses,
  4. The respondents would like to see trip planning, booking, language options and a helpline feature on the application.
  5. Too many advertisements, high data usage, too many written content, inaccurate information, having to sign up or login and useless push notifications were seen as deterrence to using the application.

These key findings were taken into consideration while planning and designing the application.

Pilot Methodology

Based on the market research conducted it was included that the bus tracking component was deemed the most important from the perspective of the service provider and its users. Therefore, it was concluded that we would be focusing on the afore said feature for the pilot. The tracking feature will show a map with Realtime bus markings of those buses that the tracking devices has been placed in.

It was also highlighted that the service provider maintained most of its Schedules and other information as excel sheets or PDFs. Which is inconvenient for the users to read. Also, they did not have the data in a digitally readable format. Therefore, it was also decided that a Data Entry Portal for the service provider would also be built. This portal was designed to be a web-based Data Entry tool to enter all schedules and related information.

It was decided that the server-side code would be built using Php, Laravel as most of the developers were familiar with Laravel. Flutter was used to build the tracking app and Firebase Realtime database was used to sync and store data. The Front-end was developed using bootstrap 4 and jQuery and Progressive Web Apps technology was used to build the desktop and mobile app.

Pilot Findings

MTCC data entry portal is no longer required as they have their own system and would prefer to use it and build on to it. They are ready to provide data endpoints so that we can use those to build our final product. The Tracking Feature was tested successfully on the Hulhumale Neighbourhood route and Hulhumale – Airport routes. It was found that the locations were displayed fairly accurately and the test was concluded a success.

Challenges and Limitations

The biggest challenge we faced was to co-ordinate with such a big team. The team availability and reliability were highly restrictive and at the end of the day it was just a handful of people left to do all the work from the development team. This was mainly because of the work schedules of the team members and this often led to several delays in the deliverables.

Another challenge was in obtaining information form the service provider. It takes time and continuous reminders. Moreover, we also had to undo a lot of work that was done because of a change in requirement well after the project was started. This includes having to change our plan of work at the last moment. It would be helpful if these projects were handled as a company project by the service provider and the development went hand in hand with the service provider’s goals. It was also noticed that the lack of a proper workspace was a hindrance to working in a team. Therefore, we had to look for coffee shops for meetings and group discussions.

Recommendations

Any future events such as this needs to be fully researched and conducted hand in hand with the service providers. It would also help to get constant mentorship and guidance by the service providers and other experts through-out the duration of the project.

The Product

Since the start of the project in January, the team has tirelessly worked on to make the until the very end of the project, the team have closely worked with UNDP and MTCC to deliver a usable product that would be easily adopted by the users.

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