RatemyBus: A crowdsourced mobile safety-rating and review app for bus routes and stops designed to help women and girls choose the safest transportation when traveling for work, school, and in town to combat gender-based violence and harassment.
In South Asia, women and girls take public buses everyday to get to work and school, attend to personal business, and visit family. Unfortunately, public buses are frequently sites of sexual harassment and gender-based violence directed at women and girls ranging from discrimination against allowing them seats, verbal abuse, and minor to violent incidents of physical assaults and rape. This crowdsourced, mobile application will help identify buses or routes that have proven to be problematic, and help women and girls feel more secure in their urban environment. In addition, the app will allow for route planning in large cities based on ratings provided by contributors, and will include both smartphone and feature phone versions.
In the research phase, one contributor mentioned the abundance of mobile devices in low-income areas, as researched by GSMA and other organizations. Now is the time to seize the mobile opportunity: by developing a bus app for smartphones as well as a simpler interface for feature phones, RatemyBus will reach a large number of bus riders.
Women and girls in Bangladesh often face sexual harassment and gender-based violence on the streets and public transportation options in Dhaka. Pictured here is a woman and her daughter waiting for buses to take them to garment factories for work.
Women and girls will download the app and gain access to the main bus lines used in their region. They will be able to rate and review the bus route as well as the bus stop along a number of parameters. Empowerment is as much about reinforcing positives as it is about reducing negatives. Users will be able to rate negative aspects such as low lighting and crowdedness, along with positive aspects such as friendliness of the bus driver, and timeliness of the bus. It will also be helpful to identify benevolent community beacons on the bus routes, whether it is a specific driver, or perhaps just friendly ‘bus friends’ whom the user rides with everyday.
Public bus transport is not always timely or available to commuters when they need it, and so bus apps exist in some cities to track the real-time location of buses (one user in the research phase mentioned the sense of security in knowing the arrival time of a bus). Thus, the RatemyBus app will not only provide safety ratings, but can also be upgraded to serve a more practical application.
Finally, it just makes sense. Buses are a touch point for every mobile urban female, and many outcomes depend on the use of a bus for transport, including attendance to school and work, physical and mental well-being and income.
While enhancing safety and security for women and girls, and reducing violence against women (VAW), the program will also promote empowerment of women and girls as they will have higher mobility.
Questions for the community?
- What specific issues should the app address?
- What technical features would you like to see on RatemyApp?
- Help us brainstorm what the feature phone app would look like
- Do you have any personal bus-riding stories you would like to contribute?
- Who can be your allies in effective use of the app to have the expected outcomes and for ensuring your bus / road safety from VAW and harassment?
Explain your idea in one sentence.
A mobile rating application designed to identify bus stops and bus routes where sexual harassment has occurred (as well as where bus-riding conditions are more favorable), with reviews based on a number of factors including overall levels of security, darkness, and crowdedness, time of day, friendliness of bus driver, duration of travel, and others.
What is the need you are trying to solve?
A reliable and easy-to-use mobile tool for women and girls to quickly assess the safest mode of public transport for a given time and place in a large urban area, and to plan safe, point-to-point routes in large cities.
Who will benefit from this idea and how would you monitor its success?
Women and girls using popular bus routes would benefit from this idea. Monitoring this project will consist of tracking application usage stats, including number of downloads, reviewing ratings made by end users, and collecting user feedback on the app. Street surveys (on paper or mobile) will be conducted near bus stops to gauge the feelings of safety and measure reported attacks over time. For app users, there will be the option of taking an in-app survey. Survey responses of regular users of the app would be compared to those responses from non-users. A baseline survey will be conducted at the beginning of the program, periodic repeat surveys including user satisfaction surveys will be carried out during the program, and an endline survey-cum-learning study will be implemented at the end.
Who would be best equipped to implement this idea in the real world? You? Your organisation? Another organisation or entity?
The Asia Foundation is a nonprofit international development organization with six decades of experience and deep local expertise, with offices in 18 Asian countries. Our Women’s Empowerment program has supported many projects targeting the problem of gender-based violence in Asia. Our Bangladesh office has also worked extensively across a number of local communities to address violence against women. Specifically, we have worked with religious leaders (imams and other religions) and wives of imams on reducing violence against women and women’s empowerment programs in Bangladesh. As a result, we have a countrywide network of partner organizations and trained program participants that this OpenIDEO initiative could draw and expand upon. Furthermore, ICT and mobile app design are growing trends in Bangladesh, with increasingly more active participation from women and girls. Our Dhaka office has also has the scope to collaborate with key telecommunications carriers in Bangladesh, namely Grameen Phone, Bangla Link, and Robi. With strong partnerships with local and national media, we are well positioned to spread awareness of the program and completed app. Additionally, other partner groups that our Dhaka office regularly collaborates with will have a vital role in the campaign to reduce violence against women through education around bus and road safety. These other actors may include the police, university students – both female and male, religious leaders, transportation companies, and others.
On the ground in Dhaka, local software developers would collaborate with our technology and women’s empowerment experts to develop an aesthetically pleasing, culturally sensitive, data-driven, and user-friendly app. Our team suggests these developers work together with female victims and non-victims of assault in a Human-Centered Design (HCD) process. This approach will offer a new paradigm for designing mobile technology for development by empowering end-users, instead of technologists or professionals, to design high utility, accessible apps. Specifically, the project will put women bus riders at the center of the design process. Building on the needs, resources, and constraints of these women, this process will provide a strong contextual basis for the marketing and scaling of a truly useful and relevant app.
Additionally, our Digital Media and Technology Programs (DMTP) unit supports a range of regional and national ICT for Development projects, including projects targeting women. We have provided support to the Indian CSO, Janaagraha, for developing mobile apps in support of the ipaidabribe.com platform. In Cambodia, we are already working on strengthening protective factors for violence against women and girls (VAWG) by designing mobile applications for both feature and smart phones that increase access to security and justice responses for vulnerable groups.
The technology is not the only piece of the puzzle. The Asia Foundation, as it does in all of the countries where it works, will partner with a local women’s empowerment NGO that can speak to the difficulties faced by the local population, and can help with monitoring and interpreting feedback to the app and survey work.
1 Imams are the Muslim religious leaders who lead prayers in over 350,000 mosques in Bangladesh. The other influencial religious leaders are the teachers in the 50,000 plus madrasahs (religious schools) in the country.
Where should this idea be implemented?
This idea can be implemented in any big city with a public bus system, and preferably where smartphone bus apps already exist. We recommend Dhaka, Bangladesh, where we have considerable capacity to implement such a project. Dhaka is the most densely populated city in the world, with 14.6 million people living in just 125 square miles. Unfortunately, stories of rape and assault in buses are common. Just last month, a court handed down life imprisonment to a bus driver and a helper for raping a woman inside a running bus.
How might you prototype this idea and test some of the assumptions behind it?
A simple way to prototype this idea would be with one of our existing networks of women entrepreneurs in Dhaka. A baseline on levels of safety and current knowledge of bus routes can be taken before the app is introduced. We can then track qualitative changes over time as well as quantitative app usage statistics with a set group of these women entrepreneurs using bus routes for work over a regular, consistent period of time.