Gov Apps for Everyone
If the thought of transferring several times between train platforms or buses at the interchange to complete your journey makes you sigh, help is at hand.
The Government Technology Agency’s Government Digital Services (GDS) division has come up with a solution — in partnership with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) — to find a more direct route to the office.
Chances are, that you may already have heard of it.
Mr Liu Feng Yuan, Director of the Data Science Division at GDS, spoke at the recent GovInsider Innovation Labs World summit about using data and technology for the public good — in this case, providing more public transportation choices in an urban city like Singapore.
“Bus routes never really change. Some have been there for a very long time,” said Mr Liu. “So, how can we think about our bus routes in a more evolutionary, data-driven way, to run more optimised, integrated transportations?”
Home to Work
To first understand the travel woes of citizens, Mr Liu’s team of data scientists used algorithms to analyse anonymised EZ-Link data taken from over a couple months. They generated a heat map of Singapore, showing which residents have the longest commute to work.
The colours range from blue to red, indicating short to long journey time.
Naturally, the Central Business District is a mass of blue, surrounded by yellows and oranges.
That is, until you venture outwards, towards the fringes of Singapore, which is where red reigns —meaning at least an hour-long commute to the office.
However, the map also yielded some surprising insights. “Sometimes you will see red spots very close to blue spots,” Mr Liu noted.
“If you live just off the main transport networks like the MRT, you could have a much less rapid commute, as it takes a lot of time to make transfers. The question is, for these smaller pockets of people, could we use data to find more direct bus routes?”
This gave rise to Beeline, a digital mobility platform which allows commuters to select from a list of bus stops and routes that were generated by data analytics.
Users may book seats on private shuttle buses and track its GPS position during the journey—just like using Uber or Grab.
If they are unable to find a suitable route, they can submit a suggestion via the platform, and the operators can make use of this crowd sourced data to offer new routes.
Already, Changi Naval Base has partnered with GDS to figure out a more efficient commute for their staff.
Now, Beeline shuttles transport naval officers living in Woodlands and Choa Chu Kang right to their doorstep.
Schools may benefit from Beeline as well. “Imagine all the separate school bus routes of schools on the same street. Why not merge both bus services?”
Mr Liu added that the underlying secret to Beeline’s success is that it is not an alternative service, but rather, it is Mobility-as-a-Service.
“The strategy is not to compete with service providers, but become more of an open platform for all of them to use,” he said.
Code with Heart
This focus on data-driven design was also the subject of a talk delivered by Mr Mark Lim, Director of GDS, at the summit.
He noted how this concept has been used extensively in e-commerce and retail, citing e-commerce giant Amazon.com as an example, but not so much in government services.
As the one-stop consultancy for government agencies to build apps or trial prototypes, GDS champions the lean, agile approach to working, Mr Lim said.
He explained that out of the 50 features your system has, less than 10% are used every day; the other 90% are either used just once annually, or worse, people don’t even know they exist. Yet, agencies are paying for these functions and features that aren’t used at all.
“Why not use the lean approach and look at the prioritisation of features? Only the things that you need, you build; and you build them well,” Mr Lim pointed out.
Through this agile way of approaching problems, the team worked together with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) to develop the myResponder app. SCDF wanted to address the very real problem of getting faster assistance to potential cardiac arrest victims.
After talking to paramedics, volunteers, ambulance drivers and 995 command centre staff, they discovered that shockingly, most people who volunteer to perform CPR don’t even get an opportunity to use their skills.
myResponder is the brainchild of SCDF Chief Medical Officer, Colonel (Dr) Ng Yih Yng.
The SCDF myResponder app works like, yes, Uber or Grab, but it alerts volunteers who are within 400 metres of the Out of Hospital Cardiac Arrest (OHCA) patient.
The national AED registry within the app will help users locate the nearest automated external defibrillator (AED), so that they can bring the AED along to the patient site.
Volunteers need not be medically trained, as there are paramedics and nurses at the 995 call centre to guide them through tele-CPR.
Mr Lim said, “Our agencies and fellow public officers are very passionate and innovative in solving problems for Singapore and our people. With a digital team like GDS to collaborate and assist them to leverage on Agile and digital technology, we are able to bring some of their innovative ideas to the real world”.
To date, the app has received overwhelming response from volunteers, doctors, and the community.
More importantly, it has seen very meaningful success, as Mr Lim shared.
“In January this year, Mdm Michelle Lim was having her Sunday breakfast at her regular coffee shop and was alerted by the app of a nearby case. She left her breakfast and ran to help the victim. When she got there, she gave the man chest compressions until SCDF team arrived and revived him with an AED. She managed to save a life.”
From saving lives to reducing commute times, GDS and their agency partners are using tech not simply to provide you a new product, but also to solve fundamental everyday problems.
“As a software engineer, it means a lot to me,” Mr Lim said.
“The lines and lines of code that are on screens in front of us, go out there in the real world to match emergency cases of victims to lifesavers.”