Quontranon Burks, right, and Derek Bobo talk about their app at the Kent Branch Library on April 9, 2018.
Toledoan Quontranon Burks can easily navigate the public transit system when he visits cities like Cleveland, Atlanta, and Salt Lake City. But when he attempts to catch a bus in his hometown, it’s not as simple as he’d like it to be.
Mr. Burks is a technology-savvy 29-year-old who grew up in Toledo and graduated from Scott High School. He knows the city’s geography, and he is used to consulting his smart phone for help getting around. But he still finds it tough to navigate the maze of paper bus schedules and complicated mobile application to interpret how to use the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority.
“Any new person trying to use the bus system is having this problem,” he said.
Mr. Burks and longtime friend Derek Bobo, 30, a fellow Scott High School graduate, want to change that. They’re in the conceptual phase of designing a smart phone app that they hope will be a user-friendly, one-stop-shop for Toledoans’ public transportation needs.
“This is a good time for this to happen,” Mr. Burks said. “Toledo is in a reform state right now.”
The friends and business partners are working with NextTech Ohio, an organization that aids entrepreneurs in the region and receives state funding to do it. They also recently completed the I-Corps Ohio program at the University of Toledo, which coaches teams of innovators through the process of turning an idea into a money-making venture.
I-Corps participants are largely UT students or research faculty, but the program also accepts community teams like Mr. Burks and Mr. Bobo.
“They found a need related to TARTA. They developed a question set to be able to interview people to see if their solution to that need would fit,” said Norman Rapino, executive director of Rocket Innovations who works with the I-Corps program at UT. “It’s too early to tell, but they’re certainly on the path to find out.”
Part of their I-Corps process was to interview about 30 people to get a sense of whether their idea for an improved TARTA app with a points or a reward system is something the community would use. They talked to bus riders and bus drivers, and this month asked one of the more prominent TARTA riders, Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, why he rides the bus once a week.
“I am doing it to start a community conversation about public transportation in our community, which I worry is struggling,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz told Mr. Burks and Mr. Bobo at a recent Wednesdays with Wade community meeting.
Quontranon Burks' and Derek Bobo's business plan for their app while at the Kent Branch Library on April 9, 2018. The two are part of the I-Corps program and they are developing an app to enhance access to public transportation in Toledo.
The mayor continued to say what Mr. Burks and Mr. Bobo already knew: Transportation is key to a thriving economy.
Many who work in the city live in the suburbs, and many who work in the suburbs live in the city, he said. People have to get to and from their jobs somehow, but TARTA doesn’t seem to be the preferred option. The mayor also said he believes vibrant public transit system is also important to attracting new business.
“We are leaving money on the table by not having a better public transportation system,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.
Mr. Burks and Mr. Bobo want their app to entice more people to use TARTA and make navigating public transit in Toledo easier. But like the mayor, they also view improved transportation as an economic driver for their home city.
“It could be the Silicon Valley of the Midwest,” Mr. Burks said. “I want Toledo to be that flourishing tech city, and we have all the means to do it.”
TARTA General Manager James Gee said he hasn’t talked with the pair about their plans, but he said he is interested in working with local people to improve TARTA’s service.
He is finalizing the public transit agency’s strategic plan in the next few weeks and said it will include a vision for improved technology. He acknowledged the existing app needs to improve if TARTA is going to cater to younger passengers who want to be able to track their routes and pay their fare all with their smart phone.
“With that demographic, there’s an expectation of that technology,” Mr. Gee said.
Mr. Burks and Mr. Bobo have a strategic plan of their own, one that involves taking their business model beyond Toledo if it’s successful. But the two entrepreneurs said it’s important to them to take their idea and help the city they love revitalize.
“People complain so much ,and no one really takes action,” Mr. Bobo said. “Why don’t we try to start it?”
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