Reinventing the Bus

Citymapper Trials Its Smart Bus in London

Citymapper, the popular transport app, recently trialled its smart bus for two days in London, with the prospect of more tests in the capital and other cities to come.

The Citymapper app was developed by former Google employee Azmat Yusuf in 2011. It received two rounds of funding in 2014 and 2016, raising $10 million and $40 million respectively. It has also won numerous awards and was named by Apple as app of the year in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Citymapper unveiled a small, compact bus designed to save space in busy cities and fit through narrow streets. The vehicle offers features such as USB charging for smartphones on the back of seats and a smart screen to improve the user experience. Citymapper’s proprietary software allows real-time integration with both the customers’ and the driver’s app, and also enables the vehicle to monitor passenger numbers. 


Citymapper Smartbus with USB charging, driver app and smart display

The company hopes that its project will improve mobility in cities by helping bus routes evolve from their ageing set-up — often decades old — to match current demand more closely. It plans to analyse user data to optimise existing routes and to find new and better ones, ultimately enhancing the customer experience.

I believe Citymapper’s Smartbus initiative is a clever move for several reasons. Firstly, instead of trying to become a disruptive company like Uber, Citymapper is working with local transport authorities such as Transport for London to develop its service. Secondly, it’s making good use of its user data and also taking advantage of data released by the transport agency. Thirdly, it has built software tools for analysis that will be usable in other cities, so a high-profile success in London could help it build a large business around the world.

Lastly, reorganising bus routes to better meet demand is a relatively quick gain, compared with other smart transport initiatives such as autonomous driving. This technology is being pursued by many IT companies and all the major car companies, but it will take many more years for it to have a significant impact on city traffic.