As the BEST strike enters day two, weary Mumbai commuters look for alternative means of transportation. However, even regular taxis and rickshaws were hard to come by, adding to the woes of the city that is always on the move. In the meanwhile, though, the online community came to the rescue of the local traveller. Citizens offering carpool services to fellow commuters used Twitter and Facebook to connect with fellow travellers in need.
Startups like Traffline Mumbai and Smart Mumbaikar took to social media to crowd-source information on available carpools. Within no time hashtags #LetsShareCommute #wantlift #givelift went viral on Twitter. “The BEST strike is impacting over five million commuters in Mumbai, daily,” explains Raxit Sheth, co founder of SmartMumbaikar, a carpooling startup. SmartMumbaikar is currently running two online campaigns to help local commuters. Sheth elaborates, “Anyone in need can tweet at us with the hashtag #wantlift or #givelift along with location details for pick up, drop, and the timing. We will instantly pair you up with relevant travellers willing to share their vehicle.”
The second campaign is for travellers in Andheri only, “Give us a missed call to 08030636439 to share an autorickshaw between Andheri and Seepz.” Traffline Mumbai, on the other hand, started the #LetsShareCommute to bring commuters together. They have also been retweeting available carpool resources:
Two Mumbai-based entrepreneurs have built a real-time traffic info service that helps urban commuters in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore avoid the thing they hate the most -- traffic jams.
With the launch of an update to their mobile app last month, an active Twitter presence, a helpline and support from city traffic cops, Traffline is taking on Google Maps Traffic head-on.
In 2008, while Brijraj Vaghani and Ravi Khemani were working in the US, they noticed how people were habituated to looking at traffic information before getting out of their house.
“It made planning travel so much easier,” they say. “That’s when we decided that it was time India be introduced to this concept too.”
The duo returned to India with a common goal of creating an India-specific 'Intelligent Transportation System'. They set-up Birds Eye Technology and launched Traffline in 2012.
What is traffline?
Traffline is a digital traffic agent that allows commuters to check traffic conditions in their city at any time of the day. You can view a real-time traffic map with colour-coded lines indicating congestion, slow and fast moving traffic with details on jams, road accidents and best alternate routes available on their website and mobile app. They also have a helpline and Twitter presence for those who are not comfortable using a map interface.
How does Traffline work?
It gets its traffic data from various sources. The base information comes from moving probes - taxis, public transport vehicles and others – that have GPS installed in them.
Accident and event-related information is collected from people on the field and Traffline’s followers on Twitter who report information voluntarily.
“We track this network of probes meticulously where after a patented algorithm collates the data from these sources and gives it out to users in the desired format,” elaborates Vaghani.
The data is provided on a map of the area with colour coded lines, each of which represents a different traffic speed. Red shows the areas with high traffic congestion, pink stands for slow moving traffic, blue reflects moderate traffic speed and green shows the routes with smooth traffic conditions.
“When we first launched we just thought that drawing accurate coloured lines on the map would be the ultimate product. Then after the launch we have realised, through user feedback and interaction that there is so much more we can do with the data we have. We are evolving it towards a platform which actually helps users save time and money instead of just providing information,” says Vaghani, who holds an MS in Electrical Engineering and manages the product and business development at Birds Eye Technology. Co-founder Ravi Khemani, an MS holder in Computer Science handles finance, daily operations, project management and recruitment.
What gives Traffline an edge over Google is that they are working closely with the traffic police and citizens (especially on social media) to collect and provide data.
In the past, they say, they have provided their information to the websites of the Mumbai Traffic Police (we couldn’t find this website), Thane Traffic Police (this website is not up-to-date, we couldn’t find any live data on it) and Bangalore Traffic Police (we tried but we were redirected to a page not found).
Citizens tweet at Traffline to voluntarily provide jam updates
If you’re on Twitter and commuting via road, we recommend you follow their handles Mumbai @TrafflineMum, Delhi @TrafflineDel and Bangalore @TrafflineBlore. They are the fastest to share traffic updates and you can also tweet your specific queries at them for route-related info.
“We find Twitter to be a complementary social media tool that helps us stay even more closely connected with our followers. We have a dedicated team that works until late hours providing instant responses to traffic requests. Our followers on Twitter, in turn help us, by sharing their traffic news updates,” says Vaghani.
Traffic helpline for people who aren’t app(savv)y:
Interestingly, Traffline also has a small call centre (about 5 people) that operates a traffic helpline. Why? It comes handy to users who are not comfortable reading a map.
The helpline serves as an alternate means at times when data coverage is spotty. The biggest use case, the founders say, is for “people getting stuck in a bad jam and not able to figure a way out, talking to a person and understanding things in details helps goes a long way in saving time”.
In a country like India where most online users are connected to the web via patchy mobile internet; this telephone helpline service can prove to be the most important feature.
Traffline on mobile: There is a Blackberry, Android and IOS App available on Google's 'Play Store' and Apple's 'App Store' making it handy on mobile phones, and tablets. They have a user base of over 300,000 users and their downloads have hit 40,000+.
Traffline on web: Additionally, it can be used through Traffline.com and mobile website m.traffline.com.