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LookingBus: Looking Out for Every Rider

LookingBus smart bus-stops improve public transportation by letting bus drivers know when riders with disabilities are at their next stop.

Photo of Nirit Glazer
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LookingBus is a connected vehicle technology that improves public transportation for people with disabilities and allows bus drivers to better serve their communities. By utilizing smart location aware sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT), LookingBus provides drivers with notifications of riders with disabilities at their upcoming stops and when the riders need to get off the bus. This ensures that drivers can assist riders while boarding and departing. People with disabilities, such as visual impairments, depend on public transit for engaging in daily life and social activities. However, they often face challenges with (1) finding the correct bus-stop, (2) determining which bus to board, especially at busy bus-stops when multiple buses approach, (3) boarding the correct bus before the bus leaves the stop, and (4) departing the bus at the right bus-stop. By means of technology, LookingBus is looking out for every rider and addresses all these challenges.

The LookingBus system includes location aware sensors that are placed on bus-stops and work synchronously with mobile apps. The system alerts drivers about the presence of riders with disabilities at their upcoming stops, as well as when they need to get off the bus. As a Vehicle to Infrastructure system, LookingBus developed proprietary hardware and a slew of software applications, including driver apps, rider apps, and a dispatch center. Previous pilot testing was conducted in collaboration with the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART, in Detroit, MI) and is now in deployment at Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) on their entire bus fleet. LookingBus is ready to continue our relationship with SMART and expand to a greater community.  Volunteer participants with visual impairments tested our first pilot with SMART to focus on the feasibility of the product and design of the system.  The SMART team including drivers, IT personnel, dispatch center personal and management all played a critical role in the development of LookingBus’ current technology.  After implementing the appropriate changes and developments, LookingBus is ready to further integrate our product in transit systems with a focus on continuing the improvement of the tool for drivers and providing better, seamless service to riders.

LookingBus addresses priorities #2: Make Mobility More Affordable, and #4: Connect People Places, and Opportunities. This pilot for LookingBus will enhance the experiences for residents with disabilities riding public transportation.

LookingBus answers the call of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires cities to tend to the transportation needs of people with disabilities. By improving the accessibility of the fixed-route buses to riders with disabilities, LookingBus provides the public transportation agencies with a cost-effective alternative to Paratransit services. The success of LookingBus will be measured in its ability to improve perceptions of the quality of transportation services provided by the Michigan Central Station and the impact areas.

LookingBus will target a fleet of buses, specifically the Frequent Affordable Safe Transit (FAST) fleet, to allow riders with disabilities to have more opportunities in the community. As a high frequency service with limited number of stops, the FAST fleet can quickly bring riders across the city and provides cost-efficient, safe, timely, and reliable services for metro cities, like Detroit.

With the Michigan Central Station being the focus, LookingBus has the potential to improve mobility of the Detroit residents, visitors, and workers, while providing more inclusion to the community for riders with disabilities. Looking into the future, the Michigan Central Station will serve many residents and workers in the Detroit area, and the LookingBus technology would provide services for riders with disabilities to travel between the suburbs and downtown of Detroit.

The location of the FAST bus-stop in the Michigan Central Station boundaries are Michigan Avenue and Trumbull. The FAST route that serves the stops along Michigan Avenue is Route 261, which has 39 bus-stops. The high frequency of riders on these routes will be accommodated by the LookingBus system being implemented on the SMART stops, which are stationed about every mile, and placed on each vehicleThe FAST bus fleets are valuable to the cities because they take riders to and from their destinations with better access and efficiency.

The LookingBus system will improve the way people with disabilities of Detroit will move around the Michigan Central Impact Station. Although there is only one bus-stop within a designated area, the installation of LookingBus will be an advantage because it will be on every bus that serves that stop. This will help bring riders from all FAST routes across Detroit in a safe, affordable and efficient way. The FAST system will be able to connect residents from the suburbs to downtown Detroit quickly and easily, and the high-frequency service will travel along three of Detroit’s busiest corridors: Gratiot, Woodward, and Michigan.

LookingBus addresses the challenges that people with disabilities face while riding public transportation. This product will enhance experiences for people with disabilities, especially those with visual impairments, who are limited with their ability to ride public transportation. Through implementation of smart bus stops, as well as user and driver applications, LookingBus enables people with visual impairments to use public transit services that are reliable, safe, and more independent.

Public transportation is consistently evolving to keep up with technological advances such as utilizing data to better map routes, timing and frequency to remain competitive and attract riders.  However, technological advancements are not enough.  Public transportation must provide efficient service with a more personal touch that caters to the customer’s specific needs while extending their demographic to include riders with disabilities as well at those that prefer to take their own car or a ridesharing service.  With LookingBus’ solution, transit agencies will be able to better serve the community, especially those with disabilities, by creating a more inclusive public transportation system for all. LookingBus aims to be a flagship solution for cities and transit agencies, which they will be proud to highlight in their annual reports and display as a success in the adoption of advanced technologies that underpin the cities of the future.

How will your solution benefit residents, workers, or visitors in the Michigan Central Station impact area? (1,000 characters)

The primary users of LookingBus would be SMART drivers and their riders with disabilities. The User Journey Figure shows how the registered LookingBus rider (or their caregiver) begins by reserving a trip on the rider app. Once the ADA rider arrives at the bus-stop, the sensor detects the rider and alerts the bus driver about their presence. The LookingBus system alerts drivers again when the rider arrives to the destination stop, providing a more efficient service for riders with disabilities. The rider app is user-friendly and is a complete trip app that accompanies riders from the time they make a trip reservation to when they arrive at their final destination. The driver app User Interface is designed to use without creating distractions for driving and rider safety. Visual indicators provide clear, color-coded alerts to drivers to eliminate confusion and provide necessary details about the rider saved in their profile, including a picture, nickname, and type of disability.

Describe your solution's stage of development

  • Ready to Scale - you have completed and expanded your pilot and are seeing adoption of your solution by your intended user

Insights from previous testing (500 characters)

Pilot testing of LookingBus produced valuable findings that were used to improve the technology. Volunteer riders suggested audible directions, use of vibration, and reminders for the mobile app. Drivers provided ideas about visual, timing, and audible aspects for the notifications and provided feedback on the positioning of the driver unit to minimize distractions. Operations personnel suggested hardware design that included water resistance, robustness, and communication capabilities.

Tell us about your team or organization (500 characters)

LookingBus has a world class team of engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs, including a fully-blind individual. The team also boasts a strong base of advisory board composed of experts in public transportation, mobility, and technology. LookingBus is a woman-owned business that develops smart city technology for riders with disabilities. The team is eager to extend the LookingBus service and is confident in its ability to quickly and affordably scale our smart city innovation.

Size of your team or organization

  • 11-50

Team or Organization URL

Are you submitting as a student team?

  • No

Are you submitting as a team from the Impact Area?

  • No

Funding Request

  • $50,000

Rough Budget (500 characters)

LookingBus will use the requested money to conduct outreach activities for the community, training for the SMART drivers, and building local social media groups of users involving Detroit community members. The outreach activities will be conducted in collaboration with local disability groups and the SMART public outreach program. The LookingBus system will be provided for free throughout the pilot period, including license, hardware and software.

Describe how you would pilot your idea (1000 characters)

The hardware, software, and service of LookingBus will be provided for free for the duration of the pilot, up to one full year. LookingBus proposes to conduct a six to twelve-month pilot of the system in the Detroit area, and the pilot will focus on collecting customer satisfaction information from both drivers and riders. The LookingBus system will be installed along the Fast Lines of the SMART bus system that serves popular areas seven days a week. These lines have been identified as busy lines with large numbers of riders and high frequency of buses. The system will be available on all buses used for these routes and at bus stops along the way. In preparation for the trial, the LookingBus team will provide Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) provisioning, including the integration of the SMART routes, bus schedule, and vehicle locations onto the LookingBus servers. The pilot funding will only be used for outreach and training activities.

Describe how you would measure the success of your pilot (1000 characters)

The success of the pilot will be measured by (1) collecting perception information from riders with disabilities and SMART drivers, (2) utilizing an on-going in-app trip rating, and (3) conducting Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys. The perception surveys will be administered in multiple stages, regarding the focus groups, trainings for riders and drivers, and using the service in the field. An on-going in-app trip rating will be implemented as well to gather insights from riders and drivers using the product. NPS surveys will be utilized to determine customer satisfaction. NPS will ask drivers and riders separately how likely they would recommend the product, on a scale of 0-10, to a friend/colleague. Pilot testing of LookingBus will highlight a range of valuable findings that will continue to refine the technology and services. The research strategies will provide feedback to developers and the training personnel to guide LookingBus to improve its overall service.

Sustainability Plan (500 characters)

Having great technology is not enough. It is important to form relationships with the community and work on building the brand. To promote sustainability of the product, LookingBus will create a community of users for drivers, riders with disabilities, and the general public. In the long term, LookingBus plans to continue using social media, focus groups, and outreach programs to raise awareness. LookingBus strives to have full-scale, industry ready deployment throughout the SMART system.

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Nora L.

What a wonderful idea. I am wondering what prompted you to think about the LookingBus solution? Also, about the outreach activities, who will be invited to attend the activities and are you going to involve people from the Detroit community to lead the activities? Good Luck!

Photo of Nirit Glazer

Thank you, Nora. We appreciate your great questions.

The idea of LookingBus was inspired by a request made by a mutual friend who works with people who are visually impaired. The idea began in Ann Arbor, MI where we had the opportunity to talk with a group of people who are blind. Our passion for developing technological solutions to have a social impact motivated us to solve this problem. The people we talked with raised frustration for the difficulties they face with riding public transportation, which triggered us to work toward developing the LookingBus solution. The current solution has been advanced over time after spending numerous hours talking with people with visual impairments and their families, as well as with public transportation key stakeholders including drivers, dispatch operators, and orientation and mobility personal.

About the outreach activities, everyone in the community is invited to the outreach activities and to be active in the social media groups. We encourage members of the community who do not have disabilities to participate as well so they will have a better understanding of the environment present to riders with disabilities. There will be multiple sessions to accommodate time conflicts for as many people as possible, and there will be on-going support through social media.

And about the local community - definitely yes, we plan to collaborate closely with local disability groups, promote the usage through local orientation mobility/trainers, and identify champion users from the community of riders with disabilities and ambassadors from the community (e.g., local students) to help with running the activities, such as workshops and “coffee and cups” user meetings.

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