Alumni develop app that alleviates train troubles, provides unique train scheduling

Media Credit: Connor Witschonke | Hatchet Photographer

James Pizzurro, who graduated in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, launched an app with crowdsourced information on Metro conditions and pinpointed train scheduling.

In response to turbulent delays, sometimes inoperable escalators and other transit nuisances, two alumni have programmed an app that comes to commuters’ rescue.

MetroHero, a website and free app with crowdsourced information on Metro conditions and pinpointed train scheduling, was released for Apple products last Monday after two years of development. The app programmers said it provides transit convenience designed for the dedicated commuters of D.C. and is different in providing user feedback.

Jennifer Hill, who graduated in January with a doctorate in computer science, met co-developer James Pizzurro, who graduated in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, at the computer science labs at GW.

The two programmers came up with the idea for the app while stuck on a train to Rosslyn two and a half years ago, where they suffered an unforeseen delay that made them wonder if an app existed for schedule updates after boarding the train, Hill said.

“What we tried to focus on from the beginning is providing as much data as possible at any time, dynamically to tell people what’s going on in the moment,” she said.

The colorful interface of the app displays a map of Metro lines and stations. Users can find the locations of specific trains accurate to the minute, as MetroHero collects data as each train passes circuits down the track. Tapping on stations and trains in the app reveals comments about each station posted by other users, which you can add yourself with a thumbs up or thumbs down rating system.

Reasons for a thumbs up include a friendly train operator, security presence and station cleanliness. Negative ratings highlight metro inaccessibility, train crowdedness and quality-of-life issues, like whether the station is too hot or cold.

Hill said these are issues that commuters vocalize every day but may go unreported by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Collaboration between users and developers is imperative to the app’s function. On top of crowdsourcing from users, MetroHero also scours Twitter for WMATA notifications and messages on train delays, fires and other travel slowdowns, then displays the full tweets within the app under the station in mention.

“The commuters have the clearest picture of what’s going on,” Hill said.

The team compiled information and made it available online and on an Android app, but the iOS app took years to finalize, developers said. The app has around 13,000 monthly users, and Pizzurro said they anticipate more growth with the release of the iOS app, which already has shown upticks in daily users.

Pizzurro said other transit apps on the market try to target “everyone,” like tourists and people who travel on the Metro irregularly. While other apps just aggregate train times from WMATA, MetroHero provides users with a forum to give and receive information from real people, as well as train times.

“We’re interested in people who know where they’re going, they know which route they usually take,” Pizzurro said. “They’re aware of their options and want to know how best to get there or, rather, how long it’s gonna take.”

Hill said the team has plans to continue adding new features or expanding to the bus system that will provide riders with the most information available as they travel using the Metro.

“Seeing people using all of the work that we’ve done and enjoying it, and being helpful for them is just the greatest feeling,” Hill said. “I’ve seen people on my morning commute using MetroHero and there’s just something so awesome about that.”

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