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From Open Data Day to TfNSW Endorsed App: Next Station

App developer Bernice (Xiaodan) Zhang entered her Chinese language app in to our Open Data Day Pitch Competition in March, and by September it was officially endorsed by Transport for NSW (TfNSW). 

International Open Data Day is an annual global celebration of Open Data, during which groups all around the world gather together for local events inspired by open data. For the second year in a row, the Open Data and Innovation team at Transport for NSW celebrated Open Data Day with a pitch competition, open to anyone and everyone producing (or in the process of producing) a great customer outcome using the open data we provide through the Transport for NSW Open Data Hub. This year’s event was run in collaboration with the NSW Department of Customer Service

Our host for the event, Richard Tubb (Innovation Lead, TfNSW), and our Open Data Day 2020 audience. 

From many applicants, nine were selected to pitch on the day, in competition for three awards: 

  • Best Pitch
  • People’s Choice
  • Best Customer Focused Product Using NSW Open Data. 

During her pitch, app developer Bernice talked about how she had witnessed first-hand her own family and friends - especially seniors - struggle with public transport information, and how this had inspired her to make an app aimed at creating a better customer experience for commuters who are not proficient in English.

Bernice Zhang during her pitch at TfNSW Open Data Day 2020

Bernice took home the prize for Best Customer Focused Product Using NSW Open Data with their app, aimed at helping to remove language barriers for non-English speaking commuters in NSW as well as tourists visiting Sydney and NSW. 

"This idea came from my Chinese parents and many other Chinese seniors I know of. They often expressed their anxiety to me about the language barrier they faced when they took public transport in Sydney.  They are not good in English but there is very little language support available in our public transport system.” Zhang said. 

"For example, they often felt helpless when the services were suddenly modified…As a result, they were often scared to explore such a beautiful city themselves and simply stayed in the local community.”

"Every year there are many overseas travellers and international students coming to Sydney.  However, not all of them are fluent in English and they would also need language support to help them to adapt to the public transport system in Sydney.  As such, I wished to create an app which could provide real time public transport information in different languages to assist people to overcome the language barrier when they take public transport in Sydney, and eventually in Australia.”

As a result of their success at Open Data Day, Bernice and her business partner Kenny (Hoi Chung) Lam were invited to enter our Open Data & Innovation incubation process, with the goal of attaining official endorsement by Transport for NSW for their app (called ‘Sydney Transport Now’ at the time) and joining our App Developer Program

The incubation process involves the provision of best practice information, app co-design and Agile development, functional and usertesting and other quality controls plus access to Subject Matter Experts from Transport for NSW and our partners, and is the main pathway to becoming a Transport for NSW Endorsed App. 

About the experience, Zhang said, “The Open Data and Innovation Team has been very supportive in assisting us to improve the functionality of the app and to resolve issues we faced along the way.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank Richard, Terence, Yvonne and David for their support and assistance over the past four months.  We could never achieve this much in 4-month time without their kind support and assistance.”

Working closely with Richard Tubb, Innovation Lead at Transport for NSW, Bernice and Kenny continued the development process for Next Station, which included finalising the app’s name and logo, improving the user interface and fine tuning the travel experience. 

When asked how the incubation process improved the app, Zhang said: “Throughout the process, we received lots of valuable feedback from the team. This feedback not only helped us to improve the user interface and user experience of our app, but also make our app more suitable for the seniors.  

"For example, [it was] pointed out to us that the colour code we adopted for the “time left” of the services could lead to confusion because it was the same as the service status, i.e. delayed or cancelled.  After many rounds of improvement, we received positive comments from the seniors I know of and most of them came from the suggestions from the team.

The incubation program also offered us a precious opportunity to discuss some technical issues we faced when using the public transport data from Open Data. This greatly enhanced the reliability of the app and the accuracy of the information we provided to the general public.”

The Open Data and Innovation team are thrilled to announce that Next Station is now officially a Transport for NSW Endorsed public transport app. Next Station utilises several datasets and APIs that are available for anyone to access and use via the Open Data Hub today (learn more about how to do that here). 

The key point of difference that Next Station brings to the NSW trip planning app market is its focus on Chinese Australians, residents and visitors without English fluency, who have previously found it both daunting and difficult to navigate the NSW transport system. 

"One of the greatest features of our app is that it supports both simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese, in addition to English.  The language support is not only limited to the app interface but also the real time translation of all service alerts.  As such, we wish our app would be widely used by the Chinese community living in Sydney and overseas travellers and students with Chinese speaking backgrounds coming to Sydney”, Zhang said. 

"We wish it could assist them to explore various beautiful places in Sydney and New South Wales by our great public transport system. In the near future, we will include more languages and cover more cities in Australia.”

Some other great features of the Next Station app include: 

  • Trip planning across the NSW public transport network
  • Real-time public transport timetables and vehicle positions
  • Real-time service alerts and trackwork notifications
  • Share your route with friends and family
  • View departure boards for every platform 

Berrnice, Kenny and Next Station join a stellar list of alumni apps that have also been incubated as part of the TfNSW app developer program,  including Learner Driver Log Book apps, Boating Companion apps, and Waverley Council specific MaaS app Swiftfare Wave, which came out of the Waverley Transport Innovation Challenge. The Next Station team were also featured on the SBS Cantonese radio for their work on the app. 

You can download Next Station in the Apple App Store or on the Google Play Store. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our newsletter to stay in the loop about upcoming TfNSW events like Open Data Day, as well as new apps, transport open data releases and more!