Abigail Klein Leichman
March 17, 2014, Updated March 18, 2014
Waiting for a bus just got easier. Photo by Yossi Zamir/Flash 90
Waiting for a bus just got easier. Photo by Yossi Zamir/Flash 90

Last summer, ISRAEL21c told you about NetBus, an app that shows Israeli commuters when to expect the bus they’re waiting for to arrive at their stop. It was supposed to go global sometime soon – and that time has arrived.

Rebranded as Ototo – a Hebrew expression for “any minute now” – the souped-up app is now available in 5,000 cities in 80 countries.

And it’s no longer just about real-time scheduling info. Ototo’s founders Snir Mac, David Vatine, Shimon Tohami and Liav Sagron have ambitious plans to use their growing crowdsourced data power to offer alternative public-transit routes (a la Waze) and even create “public transportation on demand” in the world’s busiest cities.

“Netbus only gave one simple solution to public transportation, only a small part of your planning needs,” says Mor Avihanan, Ototo’s creative manager. “Ototo gives you the big picture so you can plan your whole journey with step-by-step navigation, and in the very near future, public transportation on demand.”

Here’s how it will work: Say you’re waiting for a bus in Tel Aviv to get to Herzliya. The bus travels a route that will take 45 minutes to the destination. If enough people at your bus stop want to get to Herzliya faster, they can use the app to order a shuttle going straight where they’re headed.

“The idea will develop more, but our main agenda is that the system itself needs to be fixed and that’s what we are trying to do — not just for buses but also for trains, metro, ferries, etc.,” Avihanan tells ISRAEL21c. “It’s a much better and broader picture.”

Ototo is in talks with Israel’s major bus companies. “They are listening to us and waiting to see what their customers want. We can even save them money because we can offer information that perhaps a different route will be more heavily used.” Bus drivers could use the app to find out if they can skip a station or change the designated route.

The company now has a staff of 20 and lots of big dreams.

“We love that ‘Ototo’ implies something about to happen,” says Avihanan. “One of our goals is to plant this word as slang in other countries as well.”

In his role as adviser, Bar-Ilan University “big data” expert Prof. Ely Porat devised the complex algorithms that make the app work.

“I like that they are a ‘green’ company,” Porat tells ISRAEL21c. “The main idea is not giving new information about public transportation, but making public transportation better.”

More on Life