How to improve public transport? Commuters pitch in at SMRT's first hackathon

Winners of the MRT category for Singapore's first commuter hackathon, organised by SMRT and NUS. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM
Winners of the MRT category for Singapore's first commuter hackathon, organised by SMRT and NUS. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

SINGAPORE - Think you can do a better job than public transport operators in making our train, bus and taxi rides more pleasant? Commuters got their chance to show this on Sunday, on the third and final day of SMRT's first ever commuter experience hackathon.

More than 120 students, app developers, and regular commuters pitched their ideas before a panel of SMRT senior management. Winning teams were given $500 and a chance to earn up to $120,000 in funding.

Most took aim at train services, which have come under fire in recent times for breakdowns and overcrowding.

One of the five team winners tried to solve the perennial problem of commuters refusing to move into the middle of train carriages, by tempting the "kiasu Singaporean" with free perks. With their app, which works with an onboard sensor, commuters would earn points each time they complied. These they could use to redeem, for example, free Starbucks drinks.

Another winning team created a journey planner app that would tell commuters exactly how full each carriage of an incoming train is, suggest alternative routes, and even let them book a taxi.

Student Tan Ming Jiang, 24, meanwhile, created a simple app for taxi-hunters to mark their location, so that cabs can easily find them without needing bookings.

The hackathon was organised with NUS Enterprise, the entrepreneurship arm of the National University of Singapore.

What chance do the winning ideas have of being implemented?

SMRT's systems and engineering group senior vice president Ng Bor Kiat, one of the judges, said that each idea would be assessed case by case.

"One of the values of (the hackathon) was to get in direct contact with the commuters, to try and hear from them first-hand what are the issues they are facing today... so that we can be better assured that we don't miss out any big ideas out there that we have not explored so far."