Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0, lilachdan, Flickr

Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0, lilachdan, Flickr

Around the world, there are more than two billion people who own a smartphone, with close to 3 million of those in Israel. And, it seems, that these days nearly all of them utilize a mobile app to help them get from point A to point B. Most popular are the ride sharing apps, like the increasingly ubiquitous Uber and Gett, and the recent Israeli app Ride With (a car-pooling offshoot of Waze). But the future of transportation and commuting is not limited to sharing rides with strangers or an alternative to taxis. In Israel and elsewhere, app users are already defining how transportation will look in the future – digital, partially automated and with a focus on comfort, quickness and making life better. However, for all the technology flooding the app stores to help make us more connected, it is the human element that will prove to be the most important transportation issue in Israel.

Doing it Yourself – in style

Not the type to give up your keys for your commute or night out? Fret not, it’s never been a better time to be a driver. First up, with automated cars quickening their pace in getting to the mass market, you may not need to drive at all to commute by yourself. But until that day there are plenty of apps to help enrich your driving experience.

All of us in Israel know Waze at this point. The groundbreaking, award-winning app that was founded in Israel has become a necessity for millions whether it’s being used by itself or via Google Maps. But there are a host of apps out there to help keep yourself. Ionroad aims to build on what Waze has established to give you nothing less than an app that serves as a driving assistant. New entrants around the globe like messageLOUD want to help people text and email hands-free. While here in Israel, Radiomize recently ran a successful crowdfunding campaign aiming to give users what they want while eliminating distracted driving. Wayray promises the world’s first holographic navigation and with VR taking off, who knows what the extravagances our commutes hold for us in the (closer than we thought) future.

All of these apps represent the rise of the driver, the customer, the technology user, the consumer. App users no longer want to go without anything. They want traffic and weather reports in real time while driving. It is no longer enough to just talk on the phone – users want it all. Emails, texts and other activities that were once restricted to stationary activity are now at the ready while behind the wheel. Even parking a car is now more convenient – apps like Passport build on what pioneer PANGO established years ago – a user-centric way to approach parking that puts convenience at the center of the task.

The next train leaves in 3 Minutes

Apps like Moovit have added the user voice to public transit. Smartphone applications that lead us through the transport process are now also an indispensable part of everyday life, especially in global hubs like London and New York. But they need to play catch-up here in Israel if they want to keep pace with our love of automobiles. Will they be part of an expanded public transit system that enables people to commute into the center from outside of Gush Dan without their cars? Only time will tell. One thing is for certain, if public transit – like the at-once anticipated and grumbled about light rail project – succeed, it will be because they take the point-of-view (POV) of transport users in developing the technology.

Come ride with me

Up until now, and at least for the foreseen future, the uber concept has not taken off here, due in large part to regulatory practices. Still, we can’t ignore the huge success this concept gets worldwide, specifically in the U.S. As a serious alternative to bus or train, which  seem to be more of a source of complaints and not a solution for transportation, the diverse ridesharing services have already disrupted the taxi market, quite possibly forever outside Israel. Market research firm Juniper Research notes that services like Uber, Lyft, Gett, Ride Share, Didi Chuxing from China and Ola from India could grow to a whopping 4.5 billion dollars by 2020. These services rose to prominence and prompted Waze to launch Ride With because of a changing paradigm – one where the customer (or in this case the app user) has more power. With ride sharing/taxi alternatives, the old model of being told a fare by one company disappeared. Apps compete for riders with lower prices, coupons, and amenities such as limos, SUVs and other items that either provide luxury or help users travel by vehicle on the cheap. The riders are app users and app users’ voices are louder than ever.

The human factor

That’s because whether developing apps for getting a ride, driving, emailing while driving, parking or hopping on the bus or rail – the commuters are the ones who tell us what the real experience is all about. Technology that ignores user POV fails in today’s apps economy and that’s true for Tel Aviv, London, Boston, Berlin, Australia, Brazil and all places in between.

Your mobile app – your ride sharing experience, your parking experience, the accuracy of the train schedule – are judged millions of times each day by users around the world and they are the ones who decide quality. It doesn’t matter what the internal teams at technology companies think should determine quality – users decide and they share their thoughts with the world va app store reviews and social media, much the same way that Waze users share info about speed traps and accidents.

As much as it sometimes seems that our transportation issues are going to be solved by technology alone, with driverless cars that bring us from point A to point B while we relax in luxury, we must remember the importance that humans play and will continue to play in defining quality. The thoughts and opinions of humans in our transportation landscape is what will ultimately define what transportation experiences look like for Israel and the world in a much stronger way than ever before. The questions you must ask yourself are not “Is this technology succeeding?” It’s “Is my voice being heard?” and  “Is my company listening to its users the same way?”