Product Update: Adding Headsign Pictures to Rumbo

By Guillaume Boniface-Chang, Head of Product at WhereIsMyTransport

Trolebus in Mexico City

When we set out to offer access to public transport information for the Majority World, including cities like Mexico, Lima and Bangkok, we knew we were looking at one of the toughest challenges in the mobility space.

Our approach at WhereIsMyTransport is unique because we look at the whole public transport network, not only the services provided by government bodies.

That means looking at the fragmented, privately-operated routes that sit within the informal economy that represent, in some cities, the most-used “public” transport option.

One of our first successes as a company was making that network understandable by mapping it and making it available in GTFS format — the standard for public transport information.

That’s why it is possible today for people in Mexico City to get journey plans in Google Maps or Rumbo, our own consumer product, that take into account the entire public transport network.

So mission accomplished, right? Not quite. Through our own ethnographic research, we found that even once a commuter knows which stop they need to access one of the privately operated routes, it’s not always obvious which vehicle they should jump into.

Rumbo journey planner

That uncertainty is a source of anxiety. We therefore set out to understand how public transport users go about identifying their usual route, and how to help people with a digital representation of that process.

It wouldn’t be the toughest challenge within the mobility space if the answer was easy. Basically, it depends. In some cities, the colour pattern on the bus is an indication, whilst others will have a route number or a company logo painted on the side of the vehicle.

In Mexico City, the headsign hung behind the windshield is the main indication. More intriguingly, we heard from users of the same routes that they referred to different aspects of the vehicle to help them navigate the network.

Rumbo stop information

Ultimately, the solution we came up with is to bring vehicle pictures to Rumbo users — our Rumbis. The great thing about these pictures is that they capture the nuance of the network in a visual way and give our users something familiar to refer to.

We’ve been hard at work over the last 3 months and are now excited to finally bring this to life, launching this feature in Lima, with plans for a roll-out in Mexico City soon.