The Deployment of the Multimodal Trip Planning Application in the Smart Columbus Demonstration Program Offered Lessons on Design and Delivery from Stakeholder and User Feedback.
From 2016 through 2021, the Smart Columbus Program demonstrated smart city concepts, comprised of eight transportation, mobility and data projects in Columbus, Ohio. These projects were aimed at improving access to jobs, enhancing tourism, stimulating the economy, connecting residents to safe and reliable transportation, and supporting efficient and sustainable movement of people and goods. One proposed project, the Multimodal Trip Planning Application (MMTPA) / Common Payment System (CPS), was designed to allow travelers throughout the Greater Columbus area to plan and pay for multimodal trips using a single, account-based system. The resulting mobile app, branded “Pivot,” provided end-to-end trip planning, booking, ticketing, and payment. This app capability supported Mobility as a Service (MaaS) in order to increase transportation efficiency and improve access to jobs. Due to a change in priorities, the CPS portion was not deployed, but the MMTPA portion of the project continued until the program’s conclusion in March, 2021.
Based on user engagement with the MMTPA / CPS systems, feedback from stakeholders, and self-assessment based on performance metrics, the project team reported the following lessons:
- Include funding to make improvements to the app after it is released to the public. The City of Columbus allocated ten percent of the MMTPA / CPS development cost for improvements after public release, which was found to be adequate. Setting aside contingency dollars allows changes to be accommodated, as new providers may emerge, and how they integrate to the system may need to evolve.
- Use an incremental and iterative development approach to facilitate faster and more efficient software development. An Agile systems engineering approach (small and incremental delivery and failing fast to allow quick improvement) was adopted during the MMTPA / CPS project. This deployment was developed in small increments through iterations, adapting to the many changes, and delivering a valuable product that had a strong foundation for future development. Implementing the Agile approach earlier in the development process would have increased acceptance and buy-in from mobility providers.
- Implement proven tools to help automate the reporting of bugs and enhancements. Utilizing tools that collect system data and screenshots from beta testers enables developers to easily see where a bug may exist and rectify it. Email and spreadsheets alone were not considered sufficient for communicating status. For user acceptance testing, the development team should only respond to issues on-the-fly if those issues are truly preventing testing from occurring. Fixing issues on-the-fly can lead to other issues downstream and additional time in regression testing.
- Develop an application architecture that accepts mobility providers’ own APIs and have an onboarding plan to accommodate new providers and modes. By reducing the work on mobility providers to develop a new custom API, the providers are more likely to participate.
- Include app analytics as part of the development plan to ensure app usage is measured. Event tags can measure use of the app and inform post-launch promotion.
- Include focus groups early to help guide and shape the user experience and user interface. Focus groups should reflect potential users of the system, such as transit users, college students, downtown residents and urban residents, community organizations, suburban commuters, and other stakeholders / partners. Groups that already use transit frequently should also be considered for focus groups as well as supporting a beta launch of the system, by enabling continuous feedback, development, and improvement of the system’s functionality. Incentives for these testers could support high quality feedback.