Even with Amsterdam’s world-class cycling infrastructure, it can be confusing for tourists who aren’t familiar with it. Any newbie who has accidentally stepped into a cycle lane, or heard the ding-ding-ding of a bicycle bell during rush hour, can attest to that. And how do you know where it’s safe to park your bike?
“The best way for tourists to explore Amsterdam is by bike, but there are many things they don’t know, and there’s currently no way for them to know,” said Erik Romijn, founder of SolidLinks and creator of the app. “With 800,000 bicycles and many cars, trams, buses, etc., it can be daunting and even dangerous. I thought this app would help.”
Especially in central areas like the Leidseplein and Rembrandtplein (where tourists tend to go), there are many places where parking a bike is forbidden. Bike Like a Local shows tourists where they can safely and legally park their bike, using a database of more than 60,000 parking spaces in 17,000 locations in Amsterdam based on open data from the government. The options are shown in a map view format.
The “Find My Bike” feature then helps them remember later where they parked. If their bike happens to get stolen or removed by the city for improper parking, Bike Like a Local will provide information for how to get it back.
The app also gives cycling tips for the Amsterdam newbie. Cycling in Amsterdam, and the Netherlands in general, is exceptionally safe, but tourists are more at-risk of injury because they are often inexperienced. If you’re not familiar, you wouldn’t know to watch out for getting your wheel stuck in the tram tracks, or to look out for drivers’ blind spots.
Open Data Challenges
Providing the information in the app requires accurate, up-to-date data from the various government entities on bike parking and strict enforcement zones. Luckily, when Romijn started developing Bike Like a Local, he already had a lot of experience with government open data. He’s developed several apps using open data, such as Openbaar Vervoer, which gives realtime status for Dutch public transport.
In Amsterdam, much of the open data is in the jurisdiction of the local government districts, called stadsdelen. In the end, Romijn had to go to 7 local districts to request the data. As an experiment, he decided to go to each stadsdeel directly without the help of his city contacts.
“I wanted to see what it would be like for someone brand-new to open data to make these requests,” he said.
Romijn detailed his experience on his blog, but in summary, it took 9 months and many inquiries to obtain all of the data he needed from the different districts. There’s a law in the Netherlands that requires the government to respond to open data requests within six weeks. After that, they have to pay the requestor €20 per day. Many of the districts got close to exceeding the deadline and having to pay the fines.
“I was starting to think that collecting these late fees from the districts could be a new business model for Bike Like A Local,” Romijn said.
He eventually got all the data he needed, but the process revealed that there’s still a lot to be improved in the flow of open data from the government to the public.
Romijn has bootstrapped the app development so far, and he’s not looking for outside investment at this point. To research his business model, Romijn referenced a city survey that says 22% of all visitors to Amsterdam will cycle sometime during their visit. With 12 million visitors annually, that’s 2.5 million cycling tourists each year. If even 1% of those tourists buy Bike Like a Local, there’s a good potential for revenue there. It may not be the kind of numbers investors are interested in, but it’s not bad as a lifestyle business for an indie developer with a portfolio of other apps.
Future of Bike Like a Local
Romijn will continue marketing the app and adding features, including making use of the iPhone sensors and GPS to provide contextual tips to cyclists. He’s also looking at adding tour capabilities. Bike Like a Local is getting some attention in the press, and is continuing to add new users every month.
Bike Like a Local a great example of a useful, fun, and potentially profitable app that uses government open data.
Earlier this year, Appsterdam launched “Apps for Amsterdam: Open For Business“, an initiative with the Waag Society and the Amsterdam Economic Board to help three local startups build their businesses using open data. Many thanks to Softlayer, Big Nerd Ranch, Solid Ventures,Li Chiao Design, Likefriends, and Glimworm for lending their support and expertise to the Apps For Amsterdam: Open For Business program.
Check out the other Open for Business Startups: