A local Vancouver startup company has found a way to save commuters travel time while potentially reducing their carbon footprint —all with a free phone app.
Its founders claim Cowlines will one-up other mobile transportation applications like Google Maps. It pulls live data from Google Maps and more than 30 transportation providers across Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley — like taxis, buses, Modo and Mobi bikes — to generate the best commuter route.
Cowlines is currently in the beta-testing stage and is scheduled to launch next month.
“People hate driving around and getting stuck in traffic, so what we want is to give them choices,” said David Oliver, the founder and CEO of Cowlines Mobility.
Oliver says the inspiration for Cowlines came from his wife, who commutes from Richmond to the North Shore every day for work.
“Commuting there by bus is pretty bad on a rainy day with high heels. It’s a long walk, so it’s not fun,” he said. “She tried to drive and it’s even worse through the bridges. It’s like impossible.” With the help of the app, Oliver said his wife now cuts travel time as she juggles commuting and daily errands.
According to 2016 census data, people in metropolitan Vancouver have some of Canada’s longest average commute times. On average, it takes 27 minutes by car and 44 minutes by public transit for a person in Vancouver to get to work.
In 2015, a study commissioned by the mayors’ council found traffic congestion costs the Lower Mainland economy about $1 billion per year in lost productivity and pollution.
Oliver researched these problems and, when he learned there were 64 transportation providers across Metro Vancouver, he sought to pool their data to help people better navigate the city.
Over 30 transportation-service providers agreed to share their data with his company, and he incorporated everything he could get into Cowlines.
Raising environmental awareness
In addition to saving people time, Oliver also wanted to benefit the environment.
According to the 2016 census, only 23 per cent of people in Vancouver engage in sustainable transportation, such as public transit, biking or walking. Oliver thought if he could encourage even 10 per cent of people to adopt more sustainable transportation methods, pollution could be reduced.
To emphasize the environmental impact of an individual’s transportation choices, the app also displays the CO2 footprint of users per trip and over time. Users can see the amount of C02 emissions they’ve saved in total, on an average trip, and on the most recent trip.
City councillor ‘blown away’ by app
As a strong proponent of Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, Coun. Andrea Reimer has tried the app and believes Cowlines will have a positive environmental impact.
“People ask me questions about pollution, thinking I can give them real-time calculations. And I can give them ballparks, but I think if people have it literally on the palm of their hand, they’re going to be able to make actual real-time decisions about it,” she said.
Listen: City councillor Andrea Reimer talks about her experience with Cowlines
Reimer is a Cowlines beta user and said she was “blown away” with how the app has taught her to be a more efficient navigator. She now occasionally shaves between five and 15 minutes off her travel time.
Doing business the right way
Arturo Miguel, Cowlines co-founder and chief operating officer, said the company will first insure the app is running smoothly and that people like it before trying to turn a profit.
After catching the interests of other tech companies at the GLOBE Forum in Vancouver earlier this month, the team has only become more confident in its business plan, Miguel said.
“To make money with the app, our financial model is based on selling the data we can generate.”
He said the company will only sell data on transportation route trends and will not contain information that could identify users.
Oliver and Miguel will make the data available for free to the public sector so that changes can be made to better benefit the city, Oliver said.
“We don’t want to see the government spending billions of tax dollars creating inefficient transportation systems.”
Cowlines will be first released for iPhones with plans to develop an Android version in the future.