Saferbus – US safety app

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‘SaferBus’ is designed to help pasengers review a bus firm’s safety record but critics claim information lacks context

USA The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently released its ‘SaferBus’ which is designed to help pasengers review a bus company’s safety record. While it is said to be packed with useful information, some claim little of it is decipherable.

Tyson Evans, deputy editor for The New York Times, found when searching for popular long distance carrier Bolt Bus nothing could be called up. However, the DOT insists the app does contain safety data on Bolt Bus and explains the information can be found if you happen to know the firm is owned by Greyhound or you have the seven-digit reference figure assigned to Bolt Bus by DOT.

Conversely, a listing for Megabus is instantly available when you key it into the app’s search screen. It shows five safety categories, as it does for each operator monitored by the agency. Selecting the first one, related to ‘Unsafe Driving,’ you discover the DOT’s “intervention threshold” is 50% and Megabus’s ‘on-road performance’ number is 4.5% – which is actually quite good – if you understand the system.

Some sort of explanation is provided if you read the first of three footnotes delineating the “percentiles range” of the agency’s Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASIC).

Evans said: “You have to come up with some kind of headline which says, ‘Compared to everyone else, they’re doing really well or really poorly’. You have to have the context without cluttering it with endlessly footnoted explanations.”

He suggests a simpler rating system like the five stars found on user-friendly ratings on countless consumer websites.

Information via the SaferBus app comes from records held by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

A spokesman for the agency said it is restrained by regulation from presenting its safety data in a way which clearly compares carriers. “Unfortunately we can’t rate. If the passenger wants to know good or bad, that’s not where the agency is yet.”

By contrast, the NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority (NYMTA) does not design its own apps using data such as train and bus schedules. Instead, NYMTA opens the code to third-party developers, who have created dozens of apps which tend to be user-friendly because, in the world of mobile data, user-friendly makes more money. There are now 51 apps in the authority’s App Center.

DOT communications director Candice Tolliver said the agency plans to eventually follow NYMTA’s lead and later this year it will participate in a federal government Challenge programme which gives app developers access to the raw data used to make SaferBus an effective safety tool.