The Bot in Action!
Anyone from Boston can tell you that we have a major problem with phantom buses - which is to say buses that google maps and the bus schedule say are around the corner but forty-five minutes later never come. This menace is especially bad given that bus system primarily serves lower income communities in the Boston area, communities where a late bus might mean you loose your job.
What it does
Where's My Bus? is a chat bot that tells the user when the next bus will be and asks them after the wait to tell it if the bus came. It then stores the data of which bus, what stop, and the date and time if the bus doesn't show up. So that say, if someone three stops later asks the app where the bus is the app can respond that the schedule says it will show up in five minutes but someone three stops back said it didn't show up. It automates and optimizes the rarely used hotline for reporting missing buses, creating a better, stronger data set for identifying points of failure for the MBTA bus system.
How We built it
It uses a Azure Web Chat App to run the bot and pull from the Boston's transportation authority, the MBTA's API to generate answers to questions.
Challenges We ran into
The hardest parts were getting the Chat bot up and running (even just the template took an hour!) and pulling the right info from the MBTA's API. Elsie accidentally pulled the data for every single stop at one point and Meghana spent several hours trying to get the station numbers to translate into the station string inputs.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
That we have a working chat bot that can access real time data from the MBTA!
What We learned
What's next for Where's my Bus?
Getting the database of phantom buses up and running. Both for inputing data of failures to show up, and pulling data of the recent failures on the same line. Rolling it out on multiple platforms. Ideally this app would be accessible on Facebook, via text, and online.