ICT: Imagine if you were to travel from Thimphu to Trashigang on the meandering and precarious roads, all alone. Even if you have a vehicle of your own, just the thought of travelling alone will send many travellers looking for an alternative option.

Public transportation will be the immediate solution. However, public transportation in Bhutan is currently limited to just buses. Although a decent number of buses are available to carry commuters from one dzongkhag to another, many don’t make it with the limited number of seats available in the buses.

The concern aggravates during the peak travelling seasons when schools and colleges close and reopen. Students and low-income travellers face difficulty in travelling.

The irony is that with the increasing vehicle imports in the country, long-distance commuters in and around the country still face challenges.

To address the problem, Tshewang Rinzin, a freelance developer came up with a mobile application “Ride Sharing App” that will enable commuters to find and share rides.

Tshewang Rinzin’s app won him the second Open Mobile Phone App Development Competition under the business and public service category organised by the Swiss Agency for Development (SDC) and the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) yesterday in Thimphu.

The mobile app, Tshewang said, will allow travellers with cars to find passengers by posting their estimated departure times and destinations, and arrival date and times, stopovers and the number of vacant seats available.

On the other hand, the passengers can search for rides offered on the app by entering their start and end point of travel. The app will then match the car owner and passenger travelling in the same direction. The passenger and the driver can then communicate and agree on meeting points to pickup and discuss luggage, among others, using the messaging feature supported by the app.

“Travelling alone may be stressful, so having other persons with you on a trip reduces the stress and it is also an occasion to socialise and make the trip fun,” said the 24-year-old developer.

The Ride Sharing app is a ride matching system that allows commuters to quickly and securely find a commute match based on proximity, destination and travel route, as well as schedules and preferences.

The app is now available on android phones and users (driver and passenger) can sign up and build his or her profile using the app.

The app also provides an option for passengers to rate the drivers and vice versa for future travels. Tshewang said that the feature would enable in forming a trusted community of drivers and passengers.

For female drivers the app allows an “only female passenger” option for safety and security. Drivers can post the commute route with some preferences such as luggage sizes, departure time, stopovers and arrival time.

Passengers can search for a ride by entering the starting point and destination, and set some preferences as well. The app will then try to match the best rides, suggest a list from which the passenger can view the ratings of the driver who is offering the ride, choose the driver and book the ride.

Drivers then get notified of the booking and are allowed to use the messaging feature of the app to discuss and agree on the terms of sharing the ride. The app is integrated with Google Maps to show the routes, starting points, stopovers and end points.

“I created the app to enable easy ways to find cheaper rides and allow lone drivers to find travel companions and share the cost of travel,” said Tshewang, adding that the task was not an easy one.

Without reliable Internet connectivity, Tshewang said he had to work on the 3G network to complete the project within 45 days. “I worked 16 hours everyday over the one and half month to complete the app,” he said. “I still have many features to be included in the app to provide better service to the users.”

Meanwhile, in the entertainment and information category, Sonam Tobgay, an ICT officer won the award for his app, “Bhutanese Movie Database” (BMDb) app.

Although Sonam Tobgay couldn’t attend the launch his colleague and a fellow app developer, Tashi Daw said that the BMDb app is an aggregator application available on android phones.

“Today most of the information on Bhutanese movies are all scattered on social media,” said Tashi Daw. “This app will consolidate all the information regarding Bhutanese movies on one platform.”

The BMDb app comes as a guide for moviegoers in the country. Linked with YouTube, the app provides trailers of old, new and upcoming movies. It also allows users to rate and review the movies they have watched.

Since the Bhutanese movie industry is expanding, Tashi Daw said that the app would enable the further growth of the industry and keep the moviegoers updated.

A total of 18 app developers took part in the competition of which three were female. GNHC and SDC organised the competition to promote innovation and creativity for domestic mobile apps development in enhancing service delivery and to encourage enthusiast developers.

There are around 15 mobile apps registered with the G2C office in the country today.

Younten Tshedup