28 December 2021 17:33:28 IST

A management and technology professional with 17 years of experience at Big-4 business consulting firms, and seven years of experience in high-technology manufacturing, Rajkamal Rao is a results-driven strategy expert. A US citizen with OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) privileges that allow him to live and work in India, he divides his time between the two countries. Rao heads Rao Advisors, a firm that counsels students aspiring to study in the United States on ways to maximise their return on investment.   He lives with his wife and son in Texas.  Rao has been a columnist for BL on Campus from the year the website was launched, in 2015, and writes regularly for BusinessLine as well.

Crowdsourced apps ease travel hassles

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Host of new digital offerings now allows you to get back on road and have a safe trip.

The rapid rise of Omicron puts the recovery of the global travel industry on pause as airlines cancel flights, companies call off events, and countries step up efforts to control the spread and restrict arriving visitors. But if South Africa's experience is any indication, infections will likely fall soon. And two studies, including one from Scotland, have confirmed that while Omicron spreads rapidly, it does not cause as much harm as Delta.

One convenient and safe way to travel is by personal car or long-distance taxi. Suppose everyone in the vehicle is fully vaccinated and boosted, and the trip is designed to avoid high-density places, like crowded bars and theatres. In that case, it is still possible to go on a vacation. A well-planned getaway can work wonders on the human body and mind, especially in the Covid era.

The last few years have seen an explosion in so-called crowdsourced apps that make travel planning a breeze. “Crowdsourced” simply means that other users like you constantly update the app with their own experiences, giving you information that is available nowhere else.

Driving efficiency

Unlike in other parts of the world, the prices in gas stations in the US vary even within a few square miles. Stations closer to the highway nearly always charge more than stations a mile or so in town. The Gasbuddy app tracks the fuel prices of every pump in your region as you travel from point to point on your trip. Other customers who have filled up enter the price they paid into an app, and you can tell how recently the price was updated.

On a recent trip to Florida, I exited Interstate-10 to fill gas. Temporarily parked at a gas station charging $3.31 for a gallon, I scanned Gasbuddy to see if I could get a better deal. Sure enough, precisely 1.2 miles away was a gas station charging just $2.91. My car holds 15 gallons, so I saved $6 on just one fill-up. Not bad. I went inside the convenience store and bought three mocha coffees for my family with the money saved, justifying the purchase as fuel of a different kind.

My trip was 787 miles door to door, from Bedford, TX to Panama City Beach, in Florida. Map apps such as Google and Apple get the job done by providing detailed turn-by-turn directions. But Waze, an Israeli app that Google acquired and still operates as a stand-alone tool, is vastly superior because it relies on crowdsourcing.

 

Other drivers ahead of you constantly update road conditions so that you are never caught flat-footed. Waze tells you to slow down and be ready if there's congestion ahead. Road debris is a hazard from objects flying off of flatbed trucks and open car windows. Waze alerts you to watch out for things in front of you.

Sometimes, vehicles pull into the shoulder with their flashers on. Other times, cars are abandoned with a malfunction and left on the side of the road. Waze alerts you so that you can safely change lanes and keep away from the hazard long before you reach it.

Traffic tickets for speeding can destroy moods like no other occurrence. Hungry for revenue, localities have steeply increased fines for speeding, some crossing $300. Radar detectors equipped with various bands to scan to try and catch a police officer's radar gun are illegal in many states. They are never as effective as someone who has spotted a trooper's car sitting silently by the side to pounce on a lawbreaker.

When Waze drivers find a police car, they tap the app to update their findings for all in the region to know. Warned of the presence of the police vehicle, you slow down and pass safely by, tapping the app to confirm the existence of the trooper.

Information rich

Taps such as these are where you begin contributing to the app. Crowdsourced imposes a moral obligation for you to do your fair share to alert others. You can either initiate an alert or confirm an existing alert, preferably do both. It does not matter. What is crucial is that the app should contain the most up-to-date information from which everyone benefits.

After filling up at that Florida gas station, I tapped on the Gasbuddy app to confirm that the price was indeed $2.91. A minute later, the app showed that a user had updated the price 1 minute ago. Someone, somewhere, would appreciate my update, although I will forever remain thankless.

Once you arrive at your destination, how do you entertain your party? Trip Advisor provides crowdsourced information about things to do, but Trip Advisor has commercial interests which nudge you to book preferred sites. Besides, reviews don't always seem genuine.

A good alternative is Visit a City. The Washington Post reviewed the app and said: “This travel app has suggested itineraries for cities around the world, from Accra to Zagreb. Sure, some cities have more comprehensive guides than others, but all of those listed in the app have at least some suggestions — often accompanied by reviews from travellers who've gone before you.”

The critical words in the Post's critique are “from travellers who've gone before you.” In other words, crowdsourced. Sometimes, complete strangers can become your best friends, thanks to these apps. What a boon.