A better LRT-1 experience? These proposed apps might have the answer

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The private rail operator Light Rail Manila Corporation (LMRC) hosted Hackatren, a hackathon for Filipino programmers, software developers, and designers to devise apps for a better LRT-1 ride.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Earlier this year, Japan unveiled their newest bullet train, called the Shinkansen Supreme, which has noise-cancelling features, consumes less energy, and is lighter than older generation trains. India has also pledged to invest $17 billion for new bullet trains, especially since the number of people using their trains already exceeds capacity.

While these countries have provided new infrastructure to answer the call for a better public transport service, other countries have complemented their existing trains with features that make the passenger experience either more efficient or more enjoyable.

Hong Kong’s MTR, for instance, has Wi-Fi in all of their stations, as well as braille plates that could assist people with disabilities. Seoul, on the other hand, has climate-controlled subway trains equipped with televisions. And in Madrid, their underground stations have hosted public events such as fitness festivals that have entertained passengers and tourists alike.

The private rail operator Light Rail Manila Corporation (LMRC) also aims to mirror these innovations by enhancing the passenger experience of the LRT-1, the oldest railway system in Southeast Asia, through plausible apps that could provide passengers a more cost-effective train experience.

Exported_071418_IMG_2475.jpg The Hackatren winners came up with apps that have features such as reward systems, Augmented Reality that allows users to see tourism spots along LRT-1, and beep cards integrated unto mobile phones. Photo courtesy of LIGHT RAIL MANILA CORPORATION

A hackathon for a better LRT-1

In the recently concluded Hackatren, a weekend dedicated for Filipino programmers, software developers, and designers to devise apps for a better LRT-1 ride, several prototypes were presented.

One of the winners, the National Teachers College (NTC), presented a prototype where you can load your beep card unto your mobile app.

“Para kung kahit nasa bahay ka, kung may credit, debit card ka, pwede mong gamitin, then top up mo ‘yung phone mo at saka dikit mo ‘yung beep card mo sa phone mo, then magkakaroon na ng balance ‘yan,” explains Jun Codog, one of the members of NTC [team].

The team’s proposed app also has a public announcement system. “Kapag nagriride ka sa may LRT, may magpapop-up na message or voice kung saang station ka na,” says John Escobanez, another member of NTC [team]. “Mas effective ‘pag naka earphones ka kung saang station ka na. Makikita mo rin ‘yung live traffic, kung gaano katagal ka pipila sa isang station.”

Escobanez says that prior to joining Hackatren, they observed the usual problems that plague LRT customers: long queues, missing stops, and heavy density on platforms. While he says that new trains are needed to truly improve customer experience and to improve the technologies that can be implemented, he also thinks that there is historic value in retaining the trains that we already have.

“Legend na ‘yan sa atin eh, ‘yung trains. So we'll try to incorporate the mobile application technology and GPS to support [them].”

Exported_071418_IMG_2474.jpg “I think they have competence; they could tell us what was wrong; and what they felt could be improved for the system,” says Light Rail Manila Corporation CEO Juan Alfonso on the attendees and winners of the Hackatren. Photo courtesy of LIGHT RAIL MANILA CORPORATION

Apps with rewards and tourism features

Another winner of the Hackatren, AR-Bonics, is composed of graduates of the University of the Philippines’ Electronics and Computer Engineering program. The distinct element of their prototype is the feature that shows users tourist destinations along the LRT-1 line.

“We are pushing for LRT-1 as a hub for tourism. So using Augmented Reality, we allow users to preview tourist destinations like ‘yung Rizal Monument Park or Manila Ocean Park to encourage tourism,” says Paolo Espiritu, a member of the AR-Bonics team.

Unlike Escobanez who thinks there is a need for better infrastructure, Espiritu thinks that focusing on improving the customer experience is a more feasible solution. “Infrastructure is a saturated channel. You can't do much about it. So what we can do is fully utilize the platform, the LRT-1, to improve the experience of the users.”

As one of the goals of Hackatren is to also seek new streams of profitability for the existing trains, it comes as no surprise that the group NyxDev came out as the champion, considering that their prototype involves collaborating with potential advertisers.

“Per ride, pwedeng bigyan ng points. And ‘yung isang trick na ginawa namin is inintegrate namin ‘yung mga adverts and agencies,” says Daniel Quiming, one of the members of NyxDev. “Pwede sila kumontak sa admin ng LRT to post ads doon sa loob ng trains … tapos may module dun sa app and to get more points [kailangan] i-scan ng users ‘yung ad.”

Quiming also explains that gamifying the LRT experience such as including this rewards feature can attract users in downloading their app. Jesus Alcantara, another member of NyxDev, says that they decided to add this feature after they noticed how their friends and family are always keen on getting mobile rewards.

“‘Yung mga Pilipino mahilig sa rewards, sa pointing system, kaya nag-come up kami nito. Kasi ‘yung tanong is paano ba ma-eengage ‘yung mga tao na gumamit ng app,” says Alcantara. “Parang win-win na scenario kasi kunyari sa advertiser, mas maraming magtitingin sa ads nila at sa commuter naman, magkakaroon sila ng points every time na mag-scan sila.”

Exported_071518_IMGL0676.jpg As one of the goals of Hackatren is to also seek new streams of profitability for the existing trains, it comes as no surprise that the group NyxDev came out as the champion, considering that their prototype involves collaborating with potential advertisers. In photo (from left): NyxDev members Jesus Alcantara, Daniel Quiming, and James de Perio. Photo courtesy of LIGHT RAIL MANILA CORPORATION

Making apps over overhauling infrastructure

Much like the overall theme of the hackathon, Alcantara says that the goal is to relieve the customers from the everyday chore of commuting rather than have to completely change the infrastructure itself.

“Para maiwasan natin ‘yung part na nadidismaya ‘yung mga tao dahil sa services kasi actually lack of information lang naman ‘yun,” he explains. “Na kunyari nakikita mo sa app mo na sampung tren lang pala ‘yung umaandar so expect na ‘yung dating ng tren is mas mabagal.”

When asked why the LRMC would rather spend on improving the experience rather than the infrastructure itself, Juan Alfonso, CEO of LRMC, contends that they will continue to spend around ₱10 billion on existing infrastructure, but says that customer experience is a different yet equally important ball game.

“Spending on the infrastructure is pretty straightforward. You have engineers; you have rail experts; you have train experts,” he says. “But dealing with the customers — contestants were customers — [is different]. I think they have competence; they could tell us what was wrong; and what they felt could be improved for the system.”

While these proposed solutions are laudable and what LRMC will be doing to these prototypes remains to be seen, it is still crucial that the Filipino public be provided with up-to-date transport infrastructure since proper physical connectivity in urban and rural areas is vital for a country’s economic growth. Because if we were to rely solely on better customer experience, isn’t it nothing more than a psychological crutch?