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August/September 2013 – No. 66

The Australasian magazine of surveying, mapping & geo-information

The future is

here Retailers cash in on real-time GIS

Official publication of

inside Filling the gap How Geoscience Australia overcame the loss of Landsat-5

Mine automation The CSIRO’s autonomous mining machinery

Positioning crabs GPS-tracking the largest land-living arthropod


There is a better way to find a ride.

Sharing transport with others reduces traffic congestion and pollution.

Geospatial for a nicer world Simon Chester

T

he notion of every person owning their own vehicle is inherently flawed. Precious – and finite – resources are being exhausted (almost literally) moving people individually to popular destinations. In terms of emissions alone, this is supremely inefficient. If you then factor in traffic, you can start to appreciate the problems that could be mitigated if we only learnt to share. The reason that the idea of car ownership persists – aside from the engrained, capitalistic feeling of entitlement – is that there isn’t yet a painless method of arranging ride shares. There are a few companies out there now trying to solve these problems, however. One such company, Jayride, has created a method to find ride sharing, car-pooling, and other shared transport options across Australia and New Zealand, using geospatial technologies powering a simple web interface. “I’m a bit of a transport geek,” said Rod Bishop, co-founder and CEO of Jayride. “I

42  position  August/September 2013

love travel, sustainability, and empowering people to find and make sustainable and independent travel choices online. I want to help people live without a car. “At Jayride, we’re insanely focussed on how better transport information for alternative transport can help improve the world we live in. You see, we think better information is all we need in order to leave our cars at home. Fewer cars means a better lifestyle and nicer cities, and it all starts with geospatial information.” Rod has a natural entrepreneurial streak and has owned, managed, and been in senior positions in several small businesses, including starting a transport NGO in New Zealand. The basic idea behind the service is that users put in a starting suburb and destination, and the site displays all available transport options to them – including rideshares, airport shuttles, buses and coaches, relocation cars and more. “Jayride’s mission is to provide a better way to find and book transport so that you

can beat the car,” said Rod. “You can search over 100 transport companies – everyone from Greyhound Coachlines to ‘mum-andpop’s airport shuttles’, or man-with-van companies that can take you from A to B. “We reach out and talk to every one of these companies individually, so we can work out what they do, and give our customers the very best transport at the very best prices.” Similarly, if someone is taking a long journey, or a regular commute, and wants to share some of the transport costs, they can post their travel details, times of travel, and how much they want to charge, and they’ll be listed in the results. “It’s free to use. If you’d like to book a ride through us then on some rides we take a commission, but we make sure that we sell at the same price that you can buy elsewhere. Passengers don’t pay extra to book through us. We make it easy,” said Rod. The idea behind Jayride started back in 2007 when Rod Bishop met Jayride’s now CTO and co-founder, Ross Lin.


feature

Below: An example trip from Sydney to the airport, showing a private operator.

At the time, Rod was running a small ride-share website, Hitch, which made its matches through text-based queries, rather than geospatially. “As a younger man I loved hitch-hiking – in New Zealand, where I’m from, there’s no stigma attached to it, it’s relatively safe and good fun – but it’s not accessible for everyone,” said Rod. “I loved hitch-hiking because the alternative, to drive myself, left behind pollution and congestion where I wanted to only leave footprints. And so I was playing around with presenting hitch-hiking information online when I met Ross, and together we conceived the idea for an online repository for all bookable transport.” “I purposed the introduction of geospatial concept to carpooling,” said Ross, “which turned Rod’s carpooling website into an actual business that can cover any land-based passenger transportation.” Previous to meeting Rod, Ross had worked on another geospatial startup, known as Zoomin.

“Zoomin was built in 20052006, during the first wave of global web 2.0 geospatial start-ups. We were based in Wellington, with a team of five young men,” said Ross. “Zoomin was the biggest New Zealand online mapping and places website. We rendered our own street map tiles, did our own geocoding, and had a good community to post reviews on places.” Unfortunately, it couldn’t compete with the Google behemoth, and was left unmaintainable in late 2006. Ross’s previous experience, and similar entrepreneurial mindset, made the two a great match, so they registered a new business and started work creating Jayride. “Technically speaking, everything you need to start a company based around serving information is cheap, ready, and easily accessible – it’s a golden time for tech statups,” said Ross. There were, however, some small hurdles to jump before Jayride could launch, largely concerning getting the data together from the various government bodies, and then creating consistency between place names. “There is a great deal of ambiguity in geographical names, which causes a lot of confusion around the names that people use, and the data represented in our system,” said Ross. “Additionally, people don’t really think of suburbs as polygons – their borders are often pretty vague – so this has posed challenges, too.” Jayride initially started in late 2008 in NZ, using data from Land Information New Zealand (LINZ). The data from LINZ, however, is based around voting districts, which isn’t how people understand places. “We couldn’t know what naming convention the locals follow, so, in cleaning up data, we could only hope to get data to ‘good enough’ stage, not 100% correct,” said Ross. After successfully setting the service up in New Zealand, Jayride turned to Australia, using GNAF data for place names, launching here in early 2011. It was shortly after this that Jayride became a full-time endeavour for both Rod and Ross. Another problem that had to be tackled before the launch was keeping schedule data consistent across time zones. “Jayride serves 4 time zones across New Zealand and Australia, and there’s the additional consideration of daylight saving time as well. A flight may cross time zones

a dozen times a day, but land transportation does that many more times, and with a greater number of stops,” said Ross. Another non-trivial challenge was getting the scheduling, route and pricing data from private operators. For this to work, Ross created custom tools that translate the data from the format used by the transport operator and bring it in-line with Jayride’s custom schema, known as the Jayride Transportation Format Schema (JTFS). “We based the JTFS on Google’s General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), but designed JTFS to be more generic, in order to better suit the transportation information. “The biggest ongoing challenge is keeping the schema flexible, able to evolve fast to suit new transport operators, but also normalised in a consistent manner.” Ross realised that, in order to get the data they needed from operators, the import process had to be as painless as possible. “We put ourselves in the operators’ shoes and designed individual tools for each of the different datasets,” said Ross. “The operators are in charge of inputting all their own data. They’re usually pretty happy to do so, as bringing their pricing data onto the system allows them to more easily compare it against their competitors, and adjust it as necessary.” All this work has now paid off, as the service has built up a sizeable user base. “Jayride has almost 30,000 rideshare members and many tens of thousands of visitors every month,” said Rod. “We also work with well over 100 professional transport companies, and Jayride is the only place where you can search and book with all of these companies in a single place. “Everyone needs transport, so everyone can use Jayride. People booking rides vary from students and backpackers, to rural and regional folks from transport-disadvantaged areas, to grandmas who want help to get around. “Jayride’s biggest hits come from travel to great destinations, like the Splendour in the Grass festival, where every year thousands of people get together and rideshare to have a great time on their way to Byron Bay. “We want to make sure that we have every ride in Australia and New Zealand so that if it exists you can find and book it on Jayride – then we want to do this for the whole world. “If we can make transport easily findable, bookable, and available, then we think we’re on the way to making a world where you can live without a car. “Good geospatial information is the key to building this one-of-a-kind transport repository that makes it possible. So, geospatial information really is the key for us to help make it a nicer world.” n www.spatialsource.com.au  43

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