How the Toronto PATH got mapped
The underground PATH system in Toronto is one of the best places for commuters and Bay Streeters to avoid bad weather, grab a lunch or pick up lingerie or chocolate for that special someone. It accommodates over 100,000 people a day - that is, if they can navigate the 28 kilometres of shops and services.
That's the problem Toronto resident Roxana Vasquez faced when she moved here from Peru five years ago. She often used the PATH to commute from her apartment to work, especially during the winter months. "It was really hard for me to find my way," Vasquez says. "I got lost 100 times and I thought 'maybe it's just me'." But because she used the PATH every day she noticed other people looking for maps and going the wrong way.
That's when she got the idea to develop a mobile app to help Torontonians and visitors find their way through the PATH system, and find relevant businesses located underground.
Almost a year ago she founded her company, BonceWorks, and brought on a developer to help her build the Map the Path app. Over the next several months she gathered the content - as she quickly found out there was no central database of the over 1,000 businesses located in the PATH system. She spent a lot of time walking around and compiling business information manually.
The first version of the free Map the Path app was released in mid-April on the Apple app store. It features a map of the entire underground PATH system; a street-level map; business listings by category and proximity; and Top 10 lists including the top places to get lunch under $10 and the best places to get gifts.
Future versions of the app will include more comprehensive top 10 lists as voted on by users and a deals sections where businesses can offer discounts and coupons - Vasquez is already in talks with merchants. Vasquez says the response so far has been overwhelming - the app has over 5,000 downloads which she is extremely happy with considering the app is limited to iPhone users and is targeted to a specific audience.
She is also actively soliciting feedback on the app, and is taking users' comments into consideration for future updates to the application. She says it's opening her eyes to how users want to interact with the app - right now the default view is a category listing for businesses, and she says many users want it to default to a map view.
Her team will be adding navigation options to a future version so users can pick which they prefer. Users have also overwhelmingly expressed the desire for a BlackBerry version of the app, which the team is working on right now. BlackBerry users can sign up to be notified of the app's launch on the website, MapThePath.com.
And as for gathering business information by wandering the PATH, those days are over for Vasquez. She says users now send her business information - which stores are closing, and which ones are taking their place. She says they have been great in contributing information to improve the app. "Users have been fantastic," she says. "They understand that this is the first version."
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