Nudging citizens to use public transport through Gakyid Ride App

After completing the 21-day mandatory quarantine, Phuntsho Wangdi who returned from Thailand because of the pandemic, checked for public transport information so he could take a bus home in Yusipang, Thimphu. But the results were disappointing.

Having lived in Thailand for five years, where he used public transport, Phuntsho had grown accustomed to finding information like schedule, timing, stops and locations online.

Phuntsho Wangdi, the brain behind the city bus app

“Back home, finding information about the city bus was challenging, including getting a contact number to inquire about the schedule,” he said.

In response to this challenge, mainly faced by lower income group who rely on the city bus, Phuntsho collaborated with Tandin Dorji, an entrepreneur, to work on a mobile app prototype.

The prototype provided important information like bus schedule, timings and stops.

Incidentally they came across the innovation challenge organized by UNDP as part of the Accelerator Lab launch, and their idea was selected as one of the top three winners.

This provided them with an opportunity to present the innovative idea to a wider audience and decisionmakers. After several rounds of discussions, and with support from Gross National Happiness Commission, UNDP, City Bus Services and local innovators, the app development began.

Given the Accelerator Lab’s principle of learning and iteration, and promoting user-led innovation, we started working on designing the prototype to be tested by the city bus users, the target group for the app.

The app was expected not only drive the efficiency of the public transportation system but also aid users and encourage more residents to opt for city bus.

In Bhutan, as of October 2021, a total of 117,748 vehicles were registered, of which 63,414 were in Thimphu. Light vehicles, used by individuals, families, offices and taxi operators comprise 65 percent of total vehicles in Bhutan.

There is one vehicle for every seven Bhutanese. The increase has been attributed to rise in income of families, urbanization, access to easy credit, affordability, vehicle quota receivers and lack of efficient and reliable public transport system.

Enumerators interviewing city bus users on the app

Prototyping with the users

For the prototype, three different hypotheses were tested on the same app. The user testing was conducted for two months engaging six enumerators and 120 commuters. The prototype consisted of two phases: one on the user need, relevance and user friendliness and the other on features of the app.

For user experience research methodology, a multivariate testing method was adopted to test the prototype. A two-pronged approach was used to assess the overall app. Enumerators asked questions to the users and three different versions of the app were used to test the app. The key objective was to identify best performing features of the app, including those that would require further improvement.

The three app variations are as follows:

  1. GPS: Broadcasting location to commuters for the control version and
  2. Community crowdsourcing option: Feature where commuters can share location of their phones and consequently of the bus with others. There is a concept of gamification within the variation version.
  3. Third variation includes both GPS and crowdsourcing features.

Key learnings from the prototype:

Communication: Advocacy and awareness is key to promoting the app among users, so posters were fixed on the bus on week zero of the prototype testing. However, enumerators found that 80 percent of the commuters were not aware of the Gakyid Ride app. Forty commuters who had access to a smart phone with internet connection were identified and requested to download the app. ‘Word of mouth’ was found to be the best advocacy medium as commuters preferred to walk up to the bus stops and ask conductors about the bus schedule. The tech savvy commuters preferred advocacy on social media, especially on Facebook.

Demography of bus commuters: Around 60 percent of city bus service users were students and 40 percent were mostly uneducated. Few educated commuters were found to be young university graduates availing training/courses in the city. There was a need for tutorial to assist app users.

Influence commuters’ decisions: The GPS feature, which enabled app users to see the exact location of the bus was a welcome feature. It was observed that information on live location influenced commuters’ choice. A commuter who used the Gakyid Ride app chose to wait for the bus instead of taking a taxi because she knew the bus was approaching. The commuter also influenced her friend to wait for the approaching bus.

What Next: Scaling of Gakyid App

The City Bus Services recently procured 27 additional disabled-friendly buses and is introducing a smart card payment system.

The Gakyid Ride app is being scaled up to 45 buses, including the new buses. The app is also being integrated with the inbuilt GPS system.

With all the new features and supporting system, the idea is to attract more residents to use public transport, while encouraging existing commuters to continue availing city bus services. This is expected to reduce traffic congestion and carbon emission.

There is also potential for Gakyid Ride app to be scaled to other municipalities around the country.

Download Gakyid Ride:

Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.citybusservice.gakyid_ride

IOS: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/gakyid-ride-city-bus-service/id1588032103

Contributed by Tshering Wangmo, Head of Solution Mapping; Kunzang Wangmo, Head of Experimentation; Sonam Choki, Innovation Solution Mapper and Explorer, Accelerator Lab Team, UNDP Bhutan, and Tandin Dorji, Innovator with Druk Infinity

We would like to extend our gratitude to the City Bus Office for partnering with the Accelerator Lab in providing the platform to showcase the power of user-led local innovative solutions. We look forward to co-creating ideas and solutions for greening the public transport.

Empowering lives and building resilient communities to leave no one behind.