David Wang and Scott Middleton think that buses are underrated.
“The bus has a bad rap right now, of ‘Oh, it’s dirty, it’s not on time, it’s dangerous,’ or whatever, but at least in Boston, it’s a really fun experience,” Wang says. “When I was little kid [there was] that excitement of, ‘Hey, the bus is coming, I want to jump on the bus and look out the window.’”
Wang and his wife, Candy Yang, started thinking about how to transform the experience of riding a bus while on a trip to China. Jet-lagged and sleepless in the middle of the night, they rode a bus and spotted many landmarks from their seats.
Wang, who is about to earn an MBA and a masters degree in city planning from MIT, met Middleton at a bamboo bicycle making workshop. Middleton is also graduating from MIT this spring, with masters degrees in city planning and transportation.
The trio launched Alight at the end of April. Alight lets users select their bus route, and then shares audio segments and photos about what the bus passes. So far the content is largely historical or well-known landmarks, but the founders plan on letting users choose categories—from architecture to sports to famous people—as the app’s content grows.
Alight is a “two-sided platform,” Middleton explains. While the team has created content for some buses, including the 1, 47, and 66, the app will rely largely on user-generated content. This is one of the main features that sets Alight apart from a tour bus—visitors and newer residents can connect with long-time locals and hear the ins and outs of the city from the people who know it best. The content from residents can also help people explore less touristy parts of a city.
“The end goal is to say most of the content is user-generated,” Wang says. “A bunch of these stories can come together as a sort of mosaic narrative. However, it’s all dependent on having enough users.”
“We realize that not every type of traveler is necessarily going to be comfortable with getting on a bus or really getting off the beaten path, but we do think there’s a class of young and independent travelers, the type who prefers Airbnb over a hotel, that would enjoy using our app as a new way to experience new cities,” Middleton adds.
Users can upload short audio clips and photos within the app to add content to the routes. The app is available on all MBTA bus routes, and the creators explain that the model could expand to cities across the world.
The app is only available on Android phones for now, but the team plans to release iOS version soon.