The Town of Cary’s Bike & Hike Mobile App was developed to help support and compliment the popular Bike and Hike map. In a survey to Cary citizens, 445 of 520 respondents were in support of the development of a mobile version of the map; funding was approved by voters as part of the FY 2012 Cary Community Bonds referendum. To date, the app has been downloaded 2,152 times.
The Selection Process
In an effort to receive the most ideas and interest and allow for open competition, the Town issued a Request for Qualifications for the project and received 14 proposals. The staff team met on several occasions to review each proposal and collectively created a shortlist of four firms to interview. After a series of interviews, Vitasys of Bellevue, Washington, was selected based on their experience and recommended approach.
Tech Tank, who has recently been critical of the app in an article published on the Cary Citizen website, submitted for the project but was not selected by the team. The article was based on a survey completed by Tech Tank Fellows and interested readers of the Tech Tank Journal; according to the article, all of the respondents were male and Cary residents. They reviewed both the Android and the Apple versions of the app with some taking 15-30 minutes and a few taking more than an hour. Some are avid users of Cary greenways, others are occasional or infrequent users. No additional information on the survey or its participants was provided.
Tech Tank Analysis
On Design: “The opinion about design and appearance of quality looks to be split 40% (good) to 60% (not so good). The split in opinion of the design and appearance is interesting, and a follow up with a design specialist may be able to determine why.”
Town response: The BikeHike Mobile app is designed based on the existing Bike & Hike paper map. While opinions on design will vary by user, the intent was to develop an app that complements the existing map.
Navigation & Usability: “Most respondents found navigation and using the app to be confusing.”
Town response: The article provided no detail on what, exactly, respondents found confusing. The splash screen that greets user provides an option to “bike”, “hike”, go directly to a map (“go to map”) or to the user’s “favorites” account. Within each of these selections, advanced search options are featured.
Geolocation: “On the plus side, the majority of our respondents found the geolocation capabilities of the app to be good. Geolocation is the ability of the app to know where you (the user) is located to make it possible to show nearby trails and give directions.”
Town response: The Town is pleased the user’s found this feature useful.
Directions: “One of our respondents looked for the trailhead nearest his house. The Bike & Hike App found the appropriate trail, but gave directions to the nearest entry point as 2.1 miles away, an 8 minute car ride. In reality, the nearest entry point is 500 yards from the home of our respondent, approximately a 4-minute walk.”
Town response: The directions generated from the app are done so by the user’s default mapping software on their phone. This feature is not something the app can control.
Keep it on Your Phone: “The proof of a good app is if people will keep it on their phone and in this case, all of our reviewers chose the emphatic 'definitely not.' Most users of mobile devices actively engage with less than a dozen apps. These include phone, text, music, email, maps and the camera. The bar is set high on building a useful app.”
Town response: The Town doesn't have access to how many people actively use the app on a regular basis. On the positive side, since the mobile app has launched, the Town has had more than 2,000 downloads. To put that number in perspective, the Cary Joulebug app was launched in summer 2013 and has a total of 236 users as of this past fall. Another way to put the 2,152 number into context is that that’s more folks than subscribe to the Town’s popular Cary Arts Daze Facebook page (1,898), Cary It Green Facebook page (764), YouTube channel (434), Imagine Cary Facebook page (919) or The Cary Theater Facebook page (1,203). And it’s just under our very popular. Most of these Town accounts have been up for well over a year, some even longer.
Other comments: “Several citizens have asked why the Town would commission the app when there was already the very successful RGreenway regional trails app. Others have observed that a local supplier would have the advantage of more extensive testing than a developer in Bellevue, WA.”
Town response: As part of its research into app development, the Town learned the "Rgreenways" app was not commissioned or actively maintained by the City of Raleigh. It is our understanding that the City did provide data to the developer as a courtesy, but there is no mechanism in place to ensure accuracy, or future funding to maintain the application. The "Rgreenway" app also does not include bicycle routes, which was a focus of the Town's scope.
The Town decided to move in a direction that would allow us to control the information in the application and develop the technology using a Cary brand. Vitasys, the selected app developer, was selected as the most qualified finalist based on two separate interviews. Vitasys specializes in government work and has developed a number of mobile applications, one locally for Triangle Transit and one in the Puget Sound that was similar in scope to the Town’s scope of work.
Juliet Andes, AICP
Facilities Planning Manager
Transportation & Facilities Department