With just one tap, Find My Train tells you when the nearest Phoenix Valley Metro Light Rail is scheduled to arrive. A self-initiated project and a winner at Startup Weekend Phoenix, Find My Train took 2nd place and $15,000 worth of prizes - including an eight week course at ASU's Rapid Startup School. The app is available in the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store.
Creator / Designer
An avid user of the Valley Metro Light Rail in Phoenix, I was painfully aware of how complicated and inefficient it was to find the train schedule or plan rides. Before building this app, riders only had two options available.
Option one: Download an app that attempted to make the train data convenient to view. I download every app I could find, but found the existing apps (for Phoenix) to be horrible experiences at best—poor usability, inaccurate or outdated schedules, and believe it or not one app only showed the schedule for one direction.
Option two: Search the city's mobile website containing hundreds of data entries with station locations and times. The schedule was accurate, but poor design created a tedious and cumbersome process of searching enormous spreadsheets of times tables.
Thanks to Startup Weekend Phoenix, I was able to create a third option, and assemble a team of strangers (now friends) to create an app of our own.
The goal of the design was to reduce the number of clicks necessary to find the most relevant information. Based on in-person interviews at Light Rail stations, we determined most people were simply trying to find out when the next train was going to arrive (in Phoenix, the Light Rail may only come every 20 minutes, and waiting outside in 115° weather is less than ideal).
With other apps, it often takes 5-8 clicks to get to the correct station and scheduling information. Not to mention, you had to do this every time you used the app. We figured a more efficient way for the app to function was to make some basic assumptions based on the user’s location, and immediately deliver information for the nearest station.
The final design automatically combined the user’s location with the schedule and location of the nearest station (the one they would most likely be using). So now, by simply launching the app, a user is able to immediately see a countdown timer to when the next train is scheduled to arrive at the nearest station.
If you know you won’t make it to that train, you can swipe to see a countdown to the next train, or the next, and so on. Best of all, of the information is pulled live from the Valley Metro website. The rest of the station information and schedules are also available through the main menu.
The public response was humbling. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and we're grateful for the large amount of notable local press coverage. Since launch our user base has grown to 10,000+ users, and Valley Metro approached our team to help design their upcoming Light Rail application.
Actual (unsolicited) iTunes reviews:
"This is a great app that allows you to know when the train is coming and ensures you’re on time! This is a ‘must-download’ for the light rail commuters"
"This app is such an amazing invention. I even gifted it to a friend. A definite MUST for light rail riders both frequent and casual alike. Props guys!"
"This is a fantastic app for Phoenix metro residents. Nice, simple and clean UI. This will be super handy for me. Keep up the good work!"
There were two main challenges we encountered along the way. The first was figuring out how to keep the data up to date. For our initial launch, data was scraped off the Valley Metro website. Eventually we were able to partner with the City of Phoenix for accurate times, as well as create a system that automatically alerts our dev if the schedule needs attention.
The second challenge is having a countdown based on a schedule—if the train has a delay for some reason, there's no way for the data to reflect that. Ideally, we'll be able to combine a countdown with actual GPS information, and show the train live on a map (you may have noticed that in one of the mockups above). That information isn't currently available, but we're ready for when it is.