“How am I going to get there?” I ask myself every so often.
Some people are better than others at journey planning. It comes naturally to the fortunate ones, and it’s a struggle for others. Some people are meticulous: checking timetables, weather, having a plan B, others search for the route only with one foot out the door, or while already on the move.
It’s clear navigation is an age old problem, and it’s not going away anytime soon. People are being challenged to make longer journeys as cities grow, and as transport options multiply so does the complexity of making the best decision. There is now a vast, and growing, number of digital tools to help us do it better. Step forward Embark, a startup from Australia, who we were fortunate enough to meet, last month, in Melbourne.
Embark is a smartphone app, designed by Contact Light, a UX design firm, based in Australia’s second biggest city. It has been live since June 2016, and it is offering new value to people navigating cities.
Founded by Jamie Skella, alongside colleagues from Contact Light, Embark aims to simplify the journey planning, and provide pastime activities for its users as they travel. We sat down over a Melbourne classic, a Flat White, and discussed transport planning apps, how they are changing how people are travelling in Australia and worldwide, and what makes Embark different?
Google Maps revolutionised navigation as much as the wristwatch changed timekeeping. Having a digital map in our pockets has emboldened us to leave any journey planning until the last minute. Internet connection and GPS connection means it is increasingly difficult to get lost. Searching a route on Google Maps has become extremely accurate for people travelling on roads. However it still is not so accurate with public transport real-time information.
The Embark team saw this gap, and created an app which doesn’t just display the scheduled time for public transport, but instead the real-time information for trains, and trams wherever that data is available. Anyone who uses public transport, who has stood at a bus stop in the rain and looked longingly into the distance, knows that the difference between schedule and reality can be significant.
Embark neatly shows its user the transport options for the journey ahead, as well as the carbon footprint for each route. It has recently partnered with Uber so travellers can factor that as an option into their journey, and even book a ride from within Embark, without requiring the Uber app. It enables multi-modal travel, as booking and payment can be made right there in the app. It also has the added advantage of giving its users something to do while they travel. Once the anxiety has disappeared and you know you’re on the right train the app provides curated content. People select their preferences; and things like football scores, or endless puppy memes appear in abundance.
Lastly, Embark has another unique value proposition, as far as transport apps go. It is soon to launch a service based on beacon and NFC technology in stations. This will bring display information right into users’ digital world. When a person is near a beacon-enabled sign or screen, they can choose to engage with it for geographically relevant information, or even offers and promotions. They can save the billboard advert they see in a digital form, and share it immediately, or it can be a discount that appears in the app, or an opportunity to take part in a quick poll. It’s a boost for the research community eager for in-the-moment opinions, and a dream offer for marketers. Clearly to provide a non-intrusive, positive user-experience, this needs to be an opt-in service, but the trials that Embark have run so far have shown significant interest. Plans are being made to roll this out fully in 2017.
As public transport providers around the world release live data of their services, expect more journey planning apps to appear. The service provides much needed assistance to the individual, especially for people visiting unfamiliar parts of their city, or another place altogether. For public and private bodies too the aggregated, anonymised data, of how people are actually travelling around transport networks, is invaluable for analysis and strategic planning.
At Claro we always like to champion startups that provide original services, that fulfil real human needs and maximise the potential of personal data. Embark is an example of an extremely effective and innovative digital tool. We look forward to seeing how it develops, as it matches more people with their trains and personalised content. Let’s hope they take the right route themselves.
Embark is currently available in 1200 cities worldwide, over 200 of which include live times.. Set up in Melbourne in 2014 they are expanding their user base globally.