Sunday, February 25, 2018
News Roundup

Idea for catching a HART bus wins Tampa tech contest

TAMPA — Missed the bus? There's an app for that.

A team of web developers spent the weekend creating a program that will help riders keep up with the HART bus schedule and avoid long waits.

The text message program by team SPARKTECH was the $1,000 winner in the first city-sponsored Hack-A-Thon. Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced the winners Wednesday.

The program, named HARTxt, would text the next three arrival times at a particular stop for any HART bus. Users would have only to send a simple message with the bus stop number and the bus number to get a text back with the arrival times.

HART hasn't officially optioned the program, but the developers say it would decrease frustration riders feel.

Kathleen Tran, 21, a senior computer science major at the University of South Florida, knows all about that frustration — she doesn't have a car.

"Sometimes you miss the bus and there are long wait times. So you leave and come back and miss the bus again," she said.

It took her team five hours after the June 22 kickoff to the Hack-A-Thon to come up with the simple solution.

"It helps a certain audience. People who ride the bus often don't have smartphones," said Francis Gelderloos, 23, a senior USF computer science student. "We wanted to come up with something that for the amount of effort would do the most good."

The Hack-A-Thon gave each team 48 hours to come up with an application from information available in city databases. Teams were welcome to spend the entire weekend at the Hyatt Regency Tampa.

Only one team walked away the winner, but others were honored for their innovation.

Robin Curts was one of two recipients of the Mayor's Choice award. He used the Hack-A-Thon to work on a solo project based on an idea from his wife.

Curts built a mobile site using information already available on city sites that allows people to file requests and forms on the go.

"The city is blanketed with codes — all city services from renting a pavilion to reporting a water problem," said Curts, 34, a Java programmer with New York Life Insurance.

Curts has three girls under age 5, so he didn't camp out in the Hyatt all weekend. But he returned daily and even helped some of his competitors finish.

The goal of the competition was to highlight Tampa's technology community.

"We cannot be a call-center driven economy or a real estate driven economy," Buckhorn said.

He congratulated participants for coming up with ideas that serve citizens and show talent.

"What we did this weekend is not the end, but the beginning," Buckhorn said.

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