Some ideas start as small projects that never get rolling. The Beeline RTD iPhone and iPod Touch application has surpassed that stage, helping thousands of University of Colorado students and Boulder residents catch the right bus at the right time.
According to the app’s description in Apple’s App Store, Beeline provides users with “up-to-date information for every (Regional Transportation District) bus and Light Rail line.” It also uses geolocation so that users can find the closest bus stops to their location.
The Beeline creator, CU senior Zachary Shapiro, started working on the earliest prototypes of the app his freshman year. For his final project in a computer science class, he was supposed to create something he was passionate about.
Some students made games, but Shapiro decided to dig deeper. He took a look at his life and asked himself, “What’s a problem that I have?”
Shapiro is originally from Baltimore, and being without a car his first year at CU, he made frequent bus trips to and from Denver. He always had to look up the times on RTD’s website to plan his trips.
Shapiro decided to create an app that would simplify the process. He ended up getting an ‘A’ on the project.
He later decided to clean it up and release the original version, RTD Mobile Bus Times, which went on to be downloaded more than 1,200 times at $1 apiece.
With the success of the first model, Shapiro began to receive feedback requesting more buses (the original only had the AB and B) be added to the app. Shapiro also added a feature listing the five closest stops to the user’s location.
In June 2010, during an internship at a company he prefers to not name, Shapiro began developing the Beeline 1 app. To create the more inclusive app, Shapiro got transit data that RTD provided to Google to supply to developers.
Shapiro did a few more touch-ups, and the final product was released the next month and was downloaded more than 5,000 times. The new app gained a larger local audience and had favorable ratings.
More recently, in August 2011, Shapiro released the newest, and what he hopes to be, final version of the app, Beeline RTD 2, which sells for $2.99. While the app is not affiliated with RTD, and there are other RTD apps in the App Store, the current version of Beeline is No. 1.
To promote his invention, Shapiro used old-fashioned marketing techniques such as buying advertisements for 25 buses and hanging up fliers on campus. While he noticed the fliers helped increase brand awareness, he said that interestingly enough, the bus ads didn’t really increase downloads.
Shapiro also has found a lot of success with promotion through social media. The app has its own Twitter account (@BeelineRTD) with 87 followers. Shapiro says that Twitter is an easy platform to spread information to different audiences.
In fact, sophomore advertising major Vincent Moreschini first learned of Shapiro’s RTD apps through Twitter.
Moreschini started using the RTD Mobile Bus Times app when it first came out, and now uses the Beeline RTD 2 a few times a month to get to and from Denver International Airport, Rockies games and the Twenty Ninth Street Mall.
In addition to the Twitter account, Shapiro also uses Facebook.
“People post stuff on Facebook that I get directly and it’s great because I can have that one-on-one feedback,” Shapiro said. “So if you’re a customer and you have a problem or you have a question, you can send it to me directly.”
He added that many apps don’t have that function, so people post comments through the App Store. Users will often leave one-star reviews just to get the creators’ attention even if they just have a small question.
Shapiro is happy to avoid that situation and said social media platforms have helped him find which areas of the app need improvement.
For instance, Moreschini says that overall, he is happy with the app and likes that he doesn’t need an Internet connection to access schedule times. But he said he does wish that the Hop was included.
The description on the App Store now addresses this issue, noting, “The Hop is not included in Beeline RTD 2 as it is not part of the RTD bus system. We are working hard to include Hop data into the app.”
Shapiro is about to graduate, but he said he does want to make some fixes to the app and keep it updated.
However, Shapiro feels that he would have to do Beeline full-time to do it well, which would be increasingly difficult as he possibly pursues a career with Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone at their new startup in California.
Even as he moves away from Colorado, he, and Moreschini, would like to see the app spread to other cities.
Shapiro knows that different cities have different transit needs and said he would need a developer’s help to set the app up and write code.
Shapiro said it’s been cool to see his idea progress over the past few years. He grew from a five-year-old exploring on a Packard Bell computer to a high school student coming up with prototypes to a college student developing his own app.
Now, Shapiro is riding into the future, destination still somewhat unknown, inspired by his own ideas, and able to put them into form.